Betse Lyons, Vicky Graham, and Meghan Taylor in “I Will Eat You Alive.” Photo by Kiirstin Pagan.
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Or does it? We live in an age where our character and merit is based not only on the contents of our hearts, but by the size of our waistbands. We are force-fed a diet of media that demonizes size; fear mongering obesity for profit; and weaponizing shame to promote a sense of moral imperative on health. It is forbidden to take up space, physically or socially, as a woman, so women are tasked with the burden of internal and external mutilation in the hopes they will appeal to society. If they can deny themselves, outrun themselves, starve themselves, then maybe they can be ‘good.’ The issue of existing as a fat woman is a messy and oxymoronic nightmare that is served as a piping hot, sensory feast in Katie Hileman’s new play “I Will Eat You Alive.”
…an immersive melange of delectable design, sumptuous staging, and unadulterated fat truths.
Writer/director Hileman first developed the project about four years ago for her MFA Thesis at Towson University. The play took shape through interviews with other self-identified fat women. It has now been redeveloped into an immersive melange of delectable design, sumptuous staging, and unadulterated fat truths. “I Will Eat You Alive” is produced by Interrobang Productions which just celebrated ten years of performance-making in Baltimore. Interrobang is the newest residency in Baltimore’s contemporary theatre laboratory, The Voxel, which has quickly become a premier venue for inventive, original, and limitless new work.
Audiences are cordially invited to a dinner party hosted by three fat women to celebrate one’s decision to lose weight. Upon entering, that invitation became immersive for ten audience members as they were are allowed to choose seats at the gigantic, white dinner table that made up the majority of the galley-style set. I chose to sit at the table and cannot recommend that experience enough if you are the type of theater goer who likes to literally be in the middle of the action. Through poetic dialogue and transcendent discourse, five courses of “delicious,” weight-loss conscious food were served to the “guests.” Sampling them left me hungry to pick apart the topics of diet culture, fat phobia, and the emotional toll of being distasteful.
Actors Betse Lyons, Meghan Taylor, and Vicky Graham take on over an hour of intense dialogue through the courses, leaving no stone unturned and no heart unaffected. The meals were iconic examples from the diet canon, with an inclusion of one of today’s weight loss phenomenons. The final gut punch came with dessert which reminded us that in a fat body, we are nothing and deserve nothing.
Fortunately, the play leaves a sweet taste as the women liberate themselves with an enormous vanilla cake. They revel in their lushness, beauty, and fullness. A confetti of rainbow sprinkles is showered upon the audience to celebrate in the glory, abundance, and blessing of riotous, fat defiance. The ensemble was a dynamite team, each their own daring and fierce performer as well as engaged and supportive scene partner. They left no crumbs and very few dry eyes.
Hileman’s blocking was a dynamic, well-paced frenzy, moving the players like chess pieces in fanatical and humorous rhythms. The writing was sharp and witty, flowing between the three performers like champagne, bubbling with honest insight.
Mo Oslejsek’s sound design blended surreal soundscapes, rich with mood and tone. In addition to performing, Taylor also designed the costumes, dressing everyone in bright white but allowing for a distinct personality for each woman. There was also incredible detail taken to strengthen the conceptual framework through a priest stole, crocheted with measuring tapes, and airbrushed shirts with ridiculous caricatures of skinny bikini bodies.
The properties team of Hileman and Jessica Rassp served up a delightful (and unfulfilling) dinner. The shiny, chrome cloches and simple dinnerware evoked an unsettling clinical essence. The consumable properties by Rassp deserve a sample if you choose to sit at the table and you’re feeling brave.
Every projectionist in Baltimore should have an opportunity to play in the sandbox at the Voxel. Andrés Poch melded set and projections seamlessly and to great effect. The place mat at my seat was crafted with animated fat-shaming tweets; stained glass windows with a cornucopia of produce; shifting geometric designs; and more. Those same motifs were incorporated and distorted 360 degrees in the black box theatre across bolts of diaphanous white fabric, layered with netting. I learned later that the floating sculptural pieces were intended to represent shattered fragments of a brain but, for me, it evoked the dimpling and puckering of cellulite, with gentle folds of a rolling dreamscape. Poch’s design tangoed illustriously with lighting from Adam Mendelson which shifted between a stark, color-sapping palate to richly saturated hues to clearly mark changes in consciousness.
The piece was deeply evocative and very close to many people’s experiences. My proximity to this piece (and not just physically that evening) allowed me to to understand and relate directly to the experience of the actors on stage. But I assure you, this play is for skinny folks too. “I Will Eat You Alive” sparks the live wire of cultural flaws with our relationship to food, our bodies, and our health to which any of us can relate. We have all been harmed by diet culture and being told to deny ourselves. We can all begin to heal from that by making it visible and finding the humor and enjoyment of life. Being worthy of love is the right of any body, no matter the size. That’s the message awaiting you at the Voxel if you are ready to embrace it.
“You deserve pleasure, you deserve unconditional love, you deserve to feel full. You deserve richness, and sweetness, and calories. You deserve to be nourished.” – I Will Eat You Alive
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: This show is intended for adults. It contains strong language, explicit language about disordered eating, dieting, fat-shaming, and sexual assault, references to drugs and alcohol, and partial nudity. Caretakers considering bringing people under the age of 18 should use their discretion.
“I Will Eat You Alive” runs through February 10, 2024 presented by Interrobang Productions at The Voxel, 9 West 25th Street, Baltimore MD 21218. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online. Note: Masks are required and will be provided upon entry.
In addition to the performances, Interrobang will host a series of free community events during their residency at The Voxel. These include a plus size clothing swap with The Skylight Boutique; a round table discussion with the cast and playwright moderated by Baltimore-based, fat positive therapist Kayla Stansberry; and a storytelling hour curated by Two Strikes Theatre Collective. More information for these events can be found here.