Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Feeder: A Love Story

terraNOVA Collective's

If you don't have any particular emotional response to the words "feeder" or "gain," you should probably go see this show. It's an instructive experience looking at an aspect of humanity that we have fallen out of talking about: that good old deadly sin of Gluttony.

The protagonists of Feeder: A Love Story are Jesse (Jennifer Conley Darling) and Noel (Pierre-Marc Diennet), a married couple who mix the cute straightforward romance of yesteryear with the complications of today's online dating world -- through the particular fetish of feederism.

What's feederism (as you're probably asking, like I would have if I'd known that's what the play was about)? It's a sexual fetish where both parties obtain sexual pleasure through the gaining of weight. Noel feeds Jesse, and feeds her, and feeds her... on the way to a mythical goal of 1,000 pounds.

But at the opening of the play, things have gone awry. A talk-show host named Judith Angel has burst into their apartment and taken Jesse (who used to work for her before gaining enough wait to "go immobile," as they say) to a weight-loss clinic. Noel, sobbing and alone, is trying to figure out what has happened; the play unfolds as Noel and Jesse alternate between telling the story of their relationship to various cameras (there were at least four on set) and enacting the memories as they lived them.

There's a lot of different ways that the play could have tried to communicate Feederism to us. They (perhaps fortunately) did not really try to communicate what the sexual experience of feederism is. It wasn't about diving into the sexual fetish itself, per se. Instead, the play decided to confront us with the lifestyle of feederism. What did it mean to have to live with Feederism.

In this way, playwright James Carter chose to tackle what is a fairly taboo realm even by "downtown theater" standards in what is the most conventional way possible: through a love story. As the title suggests, it really is a love story. Two characters, deeply in love, try to navigate a difficult set of circumstances and keep their love intact. They struggle with the typical relationship woes (how do I deal with being dependent on my partner? how can I connect with a sister who won't accept me?), and the atypical ones (I am sick to death of having to be winched up on a hydraulic lift, and I am no longer able to see my friends), and in this way a door is opened onto lives you may never have imagined.

Because of the more conventional focus of the relationship, there are some things which are left unexplored -- I for one was deeply curious about whether the post-weight-loss Jesse would be able to adjust her sexual life to a new identity, among other things -- but I am not uncomfortable with being left hungry for more.

Although not everything about the production was a hit -- I wasn't wild about Alex Koch's projection design, which didn't seem very integrated into the rest of the piece's conception, and some aspects of Peter Ksander's set design seemed overly fanciful without adding much (I'm thinking mostly of a gaping hole at the side of the set that I kept expecting to be referenced directly).

The show worked when it was at its simplest: the climax of the piece, where Jesse and Noel are finally reunited at their favorite pizza parlor, face to face for the first time in the work in a scene that is not a recording or a memory, but finally is real. There's nothing important in the scene except a square table, a piece of pizza, and two characters whose deep and abiding love I had come to be deeply invested in.

All of the talk about the difficulties of feederism was powerfully made tangible by the scene where Jesse actually is lifted on the hydraulic lift. It's simple, but it speaks volumes to those who may never have actually ever seen before what daily life is like in these conditions.

Simple is good. This production is simply built, but carries in it worlds of complexities, and is certainly worth an evening of your time.

(Disclaimer: I was in attendance with an un-paid for ticket; not in exchange for this review, but on assignment for The Orange Hats.)

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