SHOWING : April 10, 2008 - May 10, 2008
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Meet Gloria, a delightful storyteller and observer of pop culture. Gloria once dreamed of opening her own “kinderkennel”, a day care facility for children and their pets. But that was before the freak accident that led to her being confined the sofa in her living room during her convalescence. Her weight ballooned to more than five hundred pounds, and now it’s been six years since she left the sofa.
Inspired by the true story of a Florida woman who “became her couch”, Gloria attempts to answer the most common question about her life: How did this happen? In doing so, she shares her thoughts on God, love, family, Katie Couric, the Sex and the City finale, and a nation that loves food, but is terrified of fat.
DON'T LOOK AT THE FAT LADY is presented by Process Theatre Company as part of the THREE BY TOPHER FESTIVAL, premiering three new plays by Topher Payne.
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 ||
I saw the first third of Process Theatre’s “3 by Topher” mini festival of world premiere plays by local playwright Topher Payne a week ago and was able to catch the rest on Saturday April 26th. The other two thirds focus on the lives that get summed up in a single catch phrase, slogan, or caption. Those whose 15 minutes of fame (or shame) we are well acquainted with, but of whom we have no substantive insight; just the buzz we get from TV news. |
The evening begins with “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady”, which introduces us to Gloria, a woman who became so obese, she literally grew into her sofa. We see Gloria seated on/in/amongst her sofa as we enter the theatre; she is huge; she is watching TV; she is eating; she is filthy; she is surrounded by a mountain of garbage; and she is immobile. She is “Jabba the Hutt” in a soiled nightgown.
As the audience is seated, she coos, laughs, and eats as she rapturously watches her TV. We hear familiar TV theme show music as she changes channels and mindlessly surfs the airwaves. Following the curtain speech, she begins to talk.
Is she talking to us?
Is she talking to herself?
Is she talking to the TV?
Or are we hearing her thoughts?
It was never quite clear to me what was happening here. This construct is part of what makes this a very interesting bit of theatre.
As she continues to talk, we learn how she came to be in her present predicament and how she is unable to escape from it. It is a confluence of physical, emotional, mental and social illnesses and dysfunctions. While her words are peppered with Topher’s trademark wit and trenchantly askew observations of life, there is an overall sense of helplessness (and hopelessness). It was damn depressing if you ask me.
As she shared her life story, I discovered, much to my annoyance, that because of my own personal baggage of being a child who grew up in an alcoholic family (with its issues of addiction and dysfunction) I could not find any sympathy in my heart for Gloria. I was mad at her and then I felt ashamed that I could not feel sorry for her. Gloria’s story touched a nerve in me. I don’t think my reaction was what was intended by the author, the director or the actor, but it is a testament to the depth of the writing and the quality of the performance that I was affected so strongly.
Jo Howarth brought an intense humanity and honesty to the monumental acting task that is Gloria.
Jo was denied the use of her body and movement, yet managed to communicate Gloria’s every emotion and dysfunction with a clarity that was astonishing. As an actor, the feat is even more impressive when you realize she is onstage by herself with no supporting players whatsoever: just her and her monologue. Talking, talking and talking for about an hour; no cues, no blocking, no scene changes. Alone. The potential for boring an audience to tears is great. But thanks to her talent and skill, she not only captured the audience, she became one with them in the same way Gloria became one with her sofa: slowly, subtly and (seemingly) effortlessly.
By the time Gloria’s story reached it conclusion, I was never more relieved to get outside, breathe and be thankful for my life! As I headed outside, DeWayne Morgan, the show’s director (and artistic director for Process Theatre) thought I looked a little pale and asked me if I was OK. I said I hoped the second act would be a little more like what I expect from Topher: clever, witty, and a bit goofy. DeWayne said “Well, in a “black humor” kind of way.”
The second “act” turned out to be four other stories of “people behind the TV news headlines” in a collection called “Above the Fold” (referring to the newspaper term for placement of headlines used to entice readers to buy newspapers). Each was a distinct take on sensationalistic TV journalism, but the writing was much closer to the style I’ve come to expect from Topher. The approaches to the stories were irreverent. The characters were unique, entertaining, and a bit goofy. The dialogue was razor sharp with some wicked wit. And there were a number of very clever surprises!
The second act started off with “A Brand New You”, an exploration of what happens when a young woman goes home to a small town after winning the grand prize on a plastic surgery makeover reality TV show called “The Butterfly”. It has a dark ending, but thanks to a great performance by Greg Morris as good ole boy husband Jim Jack, the journey is a delight. Amanda Cucher gives an intentionally flat take as Darcy, the vapid, self-centered, “rebuilt from the ground up” small town girl who doesn’t realize it’s the beauty on the inside that counts.
In “Fruit and Vegetable” (love that title!) a terminally comatose patient (the vegetable) played by Jo Howarth (ala Terri Schiavo) is being given a cosmetic makeover by a chatty beautician (the fruit) played with “fabulous” (code word!) exuberance by Greg Morris. Honey the things he says would make Joan Rivers blush! I really liked this piece. Once again it’s bittersweet, but the journey is a blast.
A “Michael Jackson”-like affection for inappropriate behavior with young boys is dealt with in “Don’t Act Like You Didn’t Know”. A scheming mother is trying to extract some financial compensation after her adolescent son becomes the victim of a famous star’s well known peccadilloes. Jo Howarth finally gets a chance to play a fully functioning adult in this one as the star’s brusque (but coldly practical) representative. Amanda Cucher is the sleezebag mother who has no problem with pimping out her son as long as there is something in it for her. Greg Morris is the victimized, but not necessarily innocent, young boy. All three turn in great performances in this piece. As the story progresses, we begin to wonder who is really the victim here. The ending is a true Topher Payne style surprise!
The evening closes with what was my personal favorite, “The Day Luke Woodham Killed All Those People”. This story is based on the first sensationalized “school shooting” in Pearl Mississippi in 1997. Luke Woodham shot up his school because he was tired of being picked on and bullied for being “different” (code word?). The story is told from an angle that is “totally Topher”! It is clever, witty and a little bit goofy. Jo Howarth does a splendid job of capturing small town kindness and naiveté as Teresa. I don’t want to spoil anything for you by explaining this one, but I will say the magnificent performance by Amanda Cucher as Holly was the perfect ending for the evening!
I found DeWayne Morgan’s direction for all of these pieces to be simple, effective and unobtrusive. There was not a lot of action and movement because it was not needed. The characters were fascinating, and their relationships were believable. These stories were presented visually with just the basics. This was totally appropriate in my opinion. The costumes and set pieces were minimal, but accurate and character appropriate. The “Above the Fold” video presentations did a great job of setting up each vignette.
All-in-all, this portion of the “3 by Topher” mini festival was considerably darker than the first third. I really enjoyed the first third, “Perfect Arrangement”, because it met my expectations: it was clever, witty and a bit goofy. It may have had a moral, but it did not have an agenda.
Still, “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady” and “Above the Fold” contained elements that were clever, witty, and at times, a bit goofy. The performances were on target and off center. There were no morals here (pun totally intended), but the agenda was unexpected. Is that a bonus or a liability? That is a personal decision for each audience member to make. Either way you see it, it does make for a stimulating and challenging evening of theatre! The “3 by Topher” mini-festival of world premieres runs through May 10th.
[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || "3 by Topher" has been extended to May 15! by jbrown77|
| Two performances of Don't Look at the Fat Lady and Above the Fold have been added, on Wed, May 14, and Thurs, May 15! Your last chance to see Perfect Arrangement is still Friday, May 9. For remaining performance dates visit processtheatre.tix.com.|
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]