Small ensemble stages ‘Massive Woman,’ examines issue of female body image

“The Most Massive Woman Wins” is by no means a conventional piece of theater. Directed by Cindi Wong ’04, the show is a series of monologues, all dealing with the same topic of female body image and all tied together with a cohesive sense of rhythm. A somewhat ambitious production, it was far from perfect, but still succeeded where necessary.

The most notable accomplishment of the show was the use of the space. Playing in the Perry Goatroom, a small wooden chamber that looks like it’s straight out of “The Skulls,” the director accomplished a certain level of intimacy by eliminating the line between the audience and the stage; for much of the play, the actresses stood among the audience members as they performed.

The production itself was meant to be intimate, with only four actresses and almost no spectacle, and the ability of the director to successfully bring the actresses into the audience created a sense of closeness between the two. While those sitting towards the front of the room may have found it irritating to keep turning around to see the action, from the back of the room the staging worked well.

Written by Madeleine George, the play is a series of long monologues interspersed with short scenes. The primary monologues are varied, each addressing a woman’s decision to resort to liposuction. A wide range of reasons and justifications are presented for the procedure. Each of the monologues also creates a well-rounded character, instead of a flat stereotype, by showing the conflict involved in each character’s decision. Though fairly shallow, the scenes in between help to establish a rhythm that facilitates the transformation of the production from a broken structure into a complete work.

From a technical standpoint, the show was unimpressive yet flawless. The technical simplicity was both appropriate and effective; complex sets and lighting would have detracted from the intended intimacy. Moreover, the lack of complexity, along with the sense of rhythm, gave an overall sense of precision and polish.

The action begins in the waiting room of the clinic, where four women (Kate Dineen ’05, Marissa Doran ’05, Laura Effinger-Dean ’06 and Alana Whitman ’05) await their appointments. They sit in silence in four lined-up chairs. One begins to rhythmically tap her foot, another begins to breathe deeply to that rhythm, and before long, magazine pages are turning, fingers are tapping and a sort of song has built itself around this rhythm.

The song stops as one of the actresses throws down her magazine, but this same sense of rhythm continues throughout the play, joining the otherwise unconnected monologues. George also creatively uses different forms of rhythm to tie together her juxtapositions, such as children’s playground rhymes.

Regarding the casting of the show, Wong made an interesting decision in not casting based on body type. On the one hand, it was occasionally distracting to watch women who are clearly not overweight talk about their weight problems. Yet on the flip side, it was somewhat liberating to see that the play was not tied down by such casting decisions. The actresses were allowed to explore their roles despite the fact that they didn’t match the body types of their characters, ultimately making a statement in the process about body-image and women’s perceptions of their physical inadequacies.

The acting was consistently strong, if not slightly overdone. The monologues were focused and believable, and each of the four characters was well-developed. However, at times during the monologues the actresses came in a bit too strongly, leaving themselves little room to build. As a result, some of the monologues lacked contrast, which would have helped to define the characters more clearly. Aside from this minor observation, the only other problem with the acting – and perhaps this is more the fault of the script than the actresses – is that between the monologues and the interspersed scenes, the distinction between characters played by each actress was not clear. It was tricky to tell whether or not the characters in these scenes were meant to be the four main characters. Aside from Whitman, whose character, Carly, had a slight southern twang, none of the parts had a distinct quality, either vocal or physical, distinguishing them from the others.

In the end, “The Most Massive Woman Wins” was a very accomplished, well thought-out and successful production. While the play itself may not have been appealing to those looking for a strong plotline, the performance succeeded as a tableau of thought-provoking moments.

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