Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
Breaking up is hard to do in Kate Huffman’s one woman confessional, “I’m Too Fat For This Show,” in which aspiring Hollywood actress, Huffman, goes toe to toe with her alter ego and oldest and bestest friend, her personified eating disorder. Struggling with her OCD with numbers, especially when it comes to calories, Huffman chronicles her endless battles, victories, and setbacks with her eating disorder since Blind Lemon’s No Rain was a thing back in ’92. If Huffman’s tale informs and delights in equal measure, “I’m Too Fat For This Show” also has its own victories and setbacks and doesn’t always convincingly make its case, theatrical or otherwise. Yet Huffman still convincingly wins the argument in an impressively brave and heartfelt production.
Reparteeing with an image of her eating disorder projected onto a screen, Huffman struggles endlessly to satisfy its incessant, internalised demands to meet the calorie numbers. If the multimedia idea is clever, and the synchronisation between Huffmann on-screen with Huffman on stage being superbly done, visually the projected image looks functional rather than imaginative, highlighting an opportunity missed. Something a good director might have resolved, along with moments of hurried pace and hurried delivery in places.
Alongside her interactions with her projected disorder, Huffman cycles through a cast of recognisible cartoon stereotypes, many exaggerated, several sounding like they wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of The Simpsons. These proceed to illustrate and expound on Huffman’s themes of self-hatred and the unreal, sexualised standards society imposes on women. Shady producers, hyper-animated doctors, loving boyfriends, detectives and dames bring us into unoriginal territory, filling in the time with some quirky and often insightful moments until the real deal comes along. And when she does, not hiding behind her less interesting characters, Huffman is a force to be reckoned with. Funny, smart, even if she and her disorder know it and it barely makes a difference, Huffman makes everything that preceded her direct, honest interrogations seem superfluous. Indeed, moments like her description of her ailments, and her pills, are not only heartbreakingly brave and brilliant, they’re far more insightful, funny, and deeply human than any of her pretend characters ever are, most of who look like they’re trying too hard in comparison.
With uneven transitions between scenes being sometimes bumpy the idea that “I’m Too Fat For This Show” might have benefited from the assistance of a good director is again reinforced. One who might have challenged Huffman’s loose physicality, and the play's compositional issues, particularly during both of the two-face routines, a device that overplays its hand. In contrast, Huffman’s delightful, direct, physical engagement with the audience underplays its hand, with avenues of immediacy and engagement pushed firmly back beyond the fourth wall as encounter returns to spectacle shortly after the opening moments. An opportunity missed, for Huffman’s physical performance is often illuminating. As is so much of what she has to say when she gets down to saying it. If her argument for neurological determinism doesn’t quite convince for not applying equally in all cases, her understanding of her eating disorder as a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer offers a much needed ray of hope in, what is for many, an otherwise hopeless landscape.
Like Joanne McNally’s excellent Bite Me, “I’m Too Fat For This Show” reveals Huffman’s body as a site where the battle with her eating disorder, for her self and self image, is daily waged. Along with the battle for her very survival. Not that you’d always know it, for Huffman characteristically downplays her pain and fears. Which is partially why several of her side characters sometimes don’t ring true, feeling like co-conspirators in underplaying her real pain and immense bravery. But no worries. Isn’t her eating disorder always looking out for her best interests? In Huffman’s confessional confrontation you mightn’t always win the battle, but you might just win the war. Or at least acknowledge its existence and drag it out into the daylight. Weaken its power. See it, and show it, for what it really is. “I’m Too Fat For This Show” might seem more clever funny than laugh out loud hilarious, but once it gets out of its own way and lets Huffman be all she can be, its heartbreaking, heartfelt, and defiantly hopeful.
“I’m Too Fat For This Show” by Kate Huffman runs at Smock Alley Theatre until August 25.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre.