According to the National Institute of Health, anorexia is an eating disorder “which has an extremely high death (mortality) rate compared with other mental disorders. People with anorexia are at risk of dying from medical complications associated with starvation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.”
In our culture today, many people, often teenagers and women, go to extreme lengths to lose weight and be slim. The obsession to be thin can result in anorexia, triggered by numerous factors such as peer pressure, advertising, family, environment, personality, and others. Model Kate Moss still can’t shake the ramifications of having once said “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Lightweight, the cleverly titled one-woman play currently being performed at the SoHo Playhouse, shines an important light on the subject of anorexia, and who better to tell her own story with this condition than the playwright herself, Amie Enriquez.
Enriquez has taken her serious challenges with anorexia and put them into an engaging script. She, her character of “Amie,” a lone anorexic among drug addicts in a long stay rehabilitation center, regales the audience with stories of her behavioral obsessions about food, being watched through an open toilet stall to make sure she doesn’t throw up, powering up on laxatives and defecating in her clothes being some of them. She can so barely contain her excitement when Natalie, a bulimic, is admitted to the rehab, that Jayne, the head therapist (who “looks like a walking Barbie doll… how am I supposed to learn to love my body from a Bond Girl?”) insists she give up the talking stick to Natalie.
Enriquez leans toward humor often, a device which serves to make the serious moments more breath-catching. Upon reflecting “the less meat I have on my bones, the thicker my armor feels,” Amie reveals that her motivation for being so skinny is to lose her curves and avoid aggressive touches from men.
For Amie, anorexia is power; her control over what she eats provides sanity amidst a world of chaos, a chaos contributed to by the people in her world, especially her parents. Enriquez’ portrayal of her mother Deb shows her to be a well-meaning but nosy and avoidant pushover, and her characterization of her father Ed reveals him to be a boorish, self-serving, lecherous blowhard. Ed’s blatantly ignorant solution that he shares to all in the rehab – “I know how to solve your eating disorder. You EAT! Mangia! Just put food in your mouth AND EAT IT!” – is representative of how many “normies” respond in the face of others’ addictions, having no clue what addiction is about and that “simple” isn’t the same as “easy.”
Although Amie criticizes her father for being an attention-getter, she herself is so desperate to be seen she inserts herself and her story into every scenario. It’s as if she wants to lose so much weight that she becomes invisible and disappears, yet she achingly wants to be seen and heard.
Enriquez’ performances of the several characters in the show are comically broad but with appropriate effect. Her portrayal of herself, however, begs for more detail. How real is the “Amie” we see on stage vs. Amie in real life? Hopefully not too different. In her performance, Amie comes off as vapid and almost always “on;” her storytelling is often like that of an animated tour guide or a game show host. She puts on such an exuberant front that she masks her sadness, fear, and self-loathing too well. Although the audience is connected to her story, they might have an even richer connection with her if she allowed more of her vulnerability to show. There are moments where we see the raw Amie, and these brief glimpses are precious; Enriquez’s courage is amazing, and it is when she shows her most fragile intimacy that she shines brightest, and her story has the most impact.
Enriquez’s inclusion of original artwork from when she was in rehab, as well as photos of a younger self are a touching inclusion to the play; the cupcake puppetry (thanks to Chloe Badner) is totally fun. The direction by Lauren Weedman is well done, and the program photography by Mandee Johnson is brilliant.
Lightweight is a strong contender, and well-recommended for both its entertainment value as well as its social importance.
Lightweight (through August 26, 2023)
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://email@example.com
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission