Society is full of expectations, most of them quite arbitrary. Whether we give them much thought or not, those expectations affect how we view the world and ourselves. The quality of physical attractiveness is among the most powerfully ingrained of these expectations, and it is often boiled down to a single issue: weight.
Society is full of expectations, most of them quite arbitrary. Whether we give them much thought or not, those expectations affect how we view the world and ourselves. The quality of physical attractiveness is among the most powerfully ingrained of these expectations, and it is often boiled down to a single issue: weight. We judge ourselves and others by it, and are judged by others in turn. If we are considered “normal,” we may not even notice it much. But sometimes what is considered “normal” is far from the norm.
This is the premise of the plays in Ladies Night, the most recent performance from Portland State’s Theater Arts Student Organization (TASO). The three one-acts range in length, from a long monologue to over half an hour for The Most Massive Woman Wins. All of the plays center on self-image issues and women, particularly societal expectations about weight.
The night starts off with Barbie’s Dream House, a short play that pokes fun at the unrealistic standard presented to young girls in the form of the Barbie Doll. Amanda Healy does a great job as the emotionally and physically limited doll, truly moving and talking like Barbie would. In the end we find out that Barbie was a German porn doll made into a toy for little girls.
The middle play, My Skin, is a one-woman monologue written and performed by Jen Allen. Director Skye Champagne said that when Allen gave this monologue at the audition, she immediately knew she had to find a way to fit it into the play. Allen is a force on stage, lending strength and energy to her speech on loving and accepting her “rolls.”
At the end of the night, during The Most Massive Woman Wins, more of a story develops. Four women wait in a liposuction office and recount the reasons why they think they are “fat” and need the procedure. They are of all different sizes and ages, helping to illustrate that “fat” is more negative self-talk than anything else. Their stories are intermixed with little scenes of playing out childhood games and rhymes that help to illustrate the unrealistic and often contradictory expectations put on girls with regard to weight, food, relationships and all things in between.
The famous playwright David Mamet, writer of, among other things, this quarter’s PSU Main Stage production of Glengarry Glenn Ross, wrote in his book on acting that people go to the theater to see courage–the courage of not only the characters, but of the actors portraying them. If that is true, then these are some of the best and most courageous performances I have ever seen.
Georgette Dashiell, Rebekkah Rasmussen, Zoee Garza and Noelle Eaton each bring life to their respective characters with a disarming vulnerability. It would have been easier (and less interesting) for them to minimize the more uncomfortable moments of self-disclosure in their characters.
Champagne is a bit of a tour-de-force herself. She put together the all-female show in part because the theater department was busy putting on a show with an all-male cast, offering her a chance to pick the best of PSU’s women actors. Champagne took responsibility for costume and set design, along with props and directing. With very limited resources, space and time, she has put together a great show.
I watched the play with an audience of mostly men who, if they are anything like me, have heard most of these ideas before. What was different here is that this production makes the issues personal rather than just political. I have often wondered what life was like for women-how it was different from being a man in more than just the obvious ways. This play opens that world up in a way that creates compassion and understanding. I highly recommend it.
Ladies Night is playing this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Back Door Theater, located at 4319 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Tickets are $3 for PSU students and $5 for everyone else.