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Review Wed Jul 02 2014
There are fine performances in Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's Eat Your Heart Out, directed by Hallie Gordon; more than a few are heartfelt, from a cast giving their gut-load of emotion, and grinding down the observer's derision into an empathy stew for her characters. Going forward, I'll try to keep the food analogies to a minimum, but bear me one more: there is much too much being served at playwright Courtney Baron's banquet.
Andrew Goetten (Colin) and Anne Joy (Evie) Photo by Joe Mazza.
Eat Your Heart Out is a one-act play that has three full acts in full swing production, and works well until about three-quarters in, when it runs out of steam, veering from quietly compelling character study successfully intertwining the life events of six people in the tradition of Robert Altman to taking shelter in Marshall Zwick's "thirtysomething" self-righteous cul de sac. Even the background music selected for the closing scene seems chosen from the post-Crash of '87 sincerity bin at Benetton. But, that first three-quarters of the play is certainly something to chew on.
Nance (Katherine Keberlein), blonde, thin and pretty, doesn't deal very well with daughter Evie (Anne Joy), who's angry, insecure, obese and in love with her friend Colin (Andrew Goetten) -- all the well-worn stereotypes of teenage alienation, but Joy's portrayal of Evie is soundly three-dimensional, and Joy is not afraid to let the audience equally dislike and empathize with Evie. After many years of drudging through a career as a social worker for an adoption agency and forgetting to go out and get a life after her once-fat husband drops the extra weight of his body as well as Nance and Evie, Nance places her profile online and accepts a first date with the nice and deceptively ordinary Tom (Charlie Strater). While Nance and Tom start and stammer with first date niceties but quickly matriculate through to Abandonment Anxiety High, Colin and Evie search for the anchors that will reel them to the elusiveness that is adolescent happiness — but Colin still futilely attempts to hang onto his long distance girlfriend. Baron's words and Gordon's direction combined with Goetten's flawless delivery accomplish a feat rarely witnessed — the suspenseful email used to flawlessly convey the character's desperation, despair and loss.
Baron's intersecting storylines veer between Nance and Tom's mating wallflower waltz and Evie and Colin's sad laments of unrequited love and loneliness, coated with Evie's hatred of Nance from her perceived rejection of Evie because she looks like the "fat version" of her father and Colin's reminders that he'd rather pine for the thin girl where he used to live than acknowledge the love Rubenesque Evie has for him — as she stands right in front of him.
Nance's job brings in another storyline in the form of Alice (Mary Cross) and Gabe (Michael Szeles), an upper-middle class Jewish couple who lost the battle with fertility treatments and want to adopt "an African child" through Nance's agency. Before Nance arrives at the couple's home, it's all nerves and coaching, with Alice warning Gabe not to be "too Jewish" and to downplay his parents' painful divorce. Alice wants to prove — maybe not only to Nance — that she'd make a great mother and Gabe would make a good father. Alice has prepared for motherhood all of her life, including majoring in African Studies at her Ivy League school. To prepare the house for Nance's visit, the couple hide the menorah and put out the appetizers and wine. Gabe downs a few glasses to calm his jangled nerves. Nance arrives, their interview goes fine until Alice leaves a lubricated Gabe alone with Nance, and Gabe lies to Nance about his parents divorce by pretending his parents never were such a thing. Upon Alice's return to their living room, when confronted by Nance about Gabe's deception, a battle of epic slings and arrows between Nance and the couple ensue, and issues of class, race, ethnicity, privilege and entitlement tumble out, engulfing its participants and sending Nance into the night to meet up with Tom, who she uses to avoid Evie's preparations for Prom with "best friend" Colin. But she leaves behind her cell phone, the instrument that will bring the three couples together.
Eat Your Heart Out works until it doesn't; many issues to chew on, but the whole meal didn't leave me satisfied. The acting ensemble is solid, each actor almost flawless in delivery and pathos projection, three-quarters of the story is compelling and the angst peeled back for all six characters provides intriguing elements that would work better if this were two plays instead of one — same casting, but split in half.
I would have liked to see Evie and Nance's story as two acts, and more interaction between Tom and Nance (their courtship could even been a third play). Lingering questions: what is it like for a woman like Nance, body-perfect by our society's standards, to love and accept an overweight husband when he's no longer overweight; to have a daughter of Evie's large size combined with humongous anger at everything, especially her mother. There is a grand opportunity to explore intra-family body image, acceptance and rejection. And Alice and Gabe — an economically privileged Jewish couple, well-meaning and good-hearted but perhaps extremely naïve and maybe not even very happily married — adopting a Black African child. And Gabe's issues — a middle-aged man who still hasn't made peace with his parents' divorce, maybe because it was their actual marriage that did far more harm to his psyche than the couple's official uncoupling. I'd like to see more of each character's story, simmered and spread out, rather than seeing great characters with great stories but missing some very important courses.
Eat Your Heart Out runs through Saturday, July 12 at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Ave. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, plus a 4pm matinee on Saturdays. No performances on July 4 or 5. Tickets are $30, or $25 for seniors and students.