Saturday, February 14, 2004


‘Most Massive Woman’
has an abundance to offer

Is liposuction a last-ditch gesture of desperation, or an act of personal empowerment? That is the question that percolates through director Jennifer Bolieu's staging of "The Most Massive Woman Wins" as a late-night production in the University of Hawaii at Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre. The title has no obvious relevance to the characters' experiences or story outcome, but the show offers valuable insights. Convincing performances, a sharply focused script, effective direction, and an astute use of costuming makes this late-night production worth seeing.

"The Most Massive Woman Wins": Presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance at Ernst Lab Theatre 11 p.m. today. Tickets $8; $7 for non-UH students, seniors, military, and UH faculty and staff; $3 UH students with Spring 2004 ID. Call 956-7655.

Bolieu establishes the context of the story before her cast takes the stage. A series of projected images show socially acceptable body images, liposuction and miracle-diet ads, and examples of how negative body images can lead people to greater physical and psychological damage. "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Beat It" parody "Eat It" is the most relevant of the songs used to add an audio component to the pre-show entertainment.

The tale follows four women awaiting liposuction treatments as an escape from feelings of inadequacy and unattractiveness. The "waiting room" is a represented by a stage bare but for four boxes the women are sitting on. Each box is a different color, and for the first minutes we identify the women by the box colors -- Green, Blue, Yellow and Red. At first, the women move in a synch. When one crosses or uncrosses her legs, the others do the same. Before long, however, they start talking, and as they share their experiences, it becomes clear that liposuction is an act of taking control.

>> Green/Carly (Kiana Rivera) is a working-class woman with an accent suggesting East Coast Hispanic origins. Carly grew up hearing other girls call her fat. Now her husband tells her she's fat. She wonders if it's true that "fat girls go crazy more often than thin girls."

>> Blue/Rennie (Maia Newell-Large) has long been the butt of family ridicule. Her mother nagged her for years. Her boyfriend browbeat her into having sex. Rennie has low self-esteem and starves herself so her mother will tell her she looks pretty, then binges on cake.

>> Yellow/Sabine (Rachel Secretario) is a "large" woman who finds comfort in food but is fed up with men who treat her like an asexual pal. She wants to be seen as a sexual object. "I don't need male approval," Sabine says. "But I yearn for human touch."

>> Red/Cel (Christa Eleftherakis) is the most complicated character and -- thanks to an impressive performance by Eleftherakis -- becomes the vehicle for the delivering the production's most important message. Cel is an attractive woman of normal size and proportions who nonetheless sees herself as flawed and ugly. She has been cutting herself, and picking at accidental cuts and scrapes to keep them from healing normally, since she was a little girl. People may think Cel is beautiful, sexy, maybe even perfect, but she doesn't.

Eleftherakis gives an eerily convincing performance in character that transcends her physical appearance. She and director Bolieu reinforce several messages about self-image with their choice of costumes for her.

Costume changes represent the women's progress through the liposuction process and their metamorphosis from "ugly" to "beautiful" and from "excessively large" to "satisfactory." They come out first in non-descript street wear, and then discreetly change into hospital gowns.

As the play is ending -- and the liposuction operations have been successfully completed -- they remove the gowns. Newell-Large, Rivera and Secretario wear what appears to be workout attire or relatively conservative undergarments.

Eleftherakis wears a bra and panties. The greater eroticism of Eleftherakis' "costume," her height, and aura of confidence, makes her the focal point of the play in those final moments and brings the deeper issues full circle. We, the audience, may see Cel as attractive, sexy, and desirable, but what does she now think of herself?

Will she now be able to see herself as beautiful?

Bolieu suggests in her director's notes that the person who appears so physically perfect to you may be "cursing the cellulite on her thighs and regretting that Belgian chocolate she had with lunch," and she offers the hope that the play will inspire the viewer to "find perfection" in the body they have. On the other hand, it can also be very empowering when change seems necessary to confront the situation, assess the options, and take action.

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