Reviewed by Amy Freeman
A lot of people, women in particular, struggle with their self-image and weight. The Food Monologues presents these women, each suffering from a combination of low self-esteem and obsession with food. But while the problem is clear, the reason never is: the monologues lack a source. The unnamed characters are dissatisfied with the food they eat (or the food they wear for their lovers), and what? Granted, each piece is only a few minutes, and there's not enough time to delve deeply into anything more psychological than, say, the name of each monologue, but The Food Monologues would be much fuller if each of the thirteen characters had a chance to explain where their body image and desire to eat came from.
The first monologue ("Mastodon," reads the placard behind her) describes a woman so large that the speaker couldn't walk by her on the street. (A mastodon is a giant extinct animal that resembled the woolly mammoth.) The sight of this large woman causes the monologist to worry that she herself is growing to the size of a mastodon. However, nothing grows or changes on stage: she stands stiffly in place, moves her arms rigidly, and looks beyond the audience, as though she were auditioning for them. The character's concern is evident from her voice, but her fears seem unjustified.
All of The Food Monologues seems like that same character, split into thirteen pieces. Their individual identities don't matter: each merely displays some dimension of the woman who worries about her weight. Some of these are cute, like the overworked mother who just needs Coke (as in the soda); the woman proud of the fact that she eats a lot; and the woman sitting on the ground, shoving cookies in her face. And each scene varies in tone, from the anorexic teenager worrying about food sticking to her ribs, to a woman who'd just like to (as opposed to needing to) lose ten pounds, and the "mastodon" of the first monologue appears onstage to justify her joy in eating chocolate cake. It all comes across as a parade of low self-esteem; it never dives in or explores the society and emotional source of these struggles.
A recurring ensemble piece "I Eat Because" lists reasons why the women indulge—they are sad, happy, are in social situations, don't want to waste food, etc. But, where is their guilt coming from? Why do they have to present a list of reasons why they eat? The lists may be intended to develop a feeling of camaraderie between the characters and the audience. A lot of women struggle with food in real life and are seeking a way to change their relationship with eating. However, the reasons why and how each woman developed her unhealthy relationship with food is never discussed. Furthermore, the ways in which women can change their attitudes towards food are never really discussed, and the characters reject healthy thoughts.
In the end, The Food Monologues is much like the chocolate cake it glorifies. It is initially sweet and easy to swallow, but in the end, one is left craving something with more substance.
The Food Monologues (1 hour)
Emerging Artists Theatre at the Roy Arias Theater Center (300 W 43rd Street, 5th Floor)
Tickets (www.eatheatre.org): $10.00-18.00
Performances (through 5/4): Tues. and Fri at 7PM, Sun. at 5PM