Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
When temptation rises and motivation wanes, the edges fray
Kalamunda Dramatic Society's latest production, by actor/director/playwright Vanessa Brooks and directed by Anita Bound is Love Me Slender.
I was fortunate enough to attend the opening night and was mightily impressed with the quality of the acting, set, direction, pace and choice of actors. I have some difficulties with the script, which I'll get to shortly, but first, a doff of the titfer to the cast and crew.
The cast of Love Me Slender in rehearsal (Photograph courtesy of Kads)
Briefly, the plot centres on a self-help group, a branch of 'Slim for Life' run by Siobhan (played in a curious co-incidence by Siobhan Vincent) a weight-loss success story and her six protegees. More a faith-based exercise than anything else each of the ladies has a back story which we learn over the course of the play.
The group, ranging from the comfortably chubby to the worryingly thin, are a mixed bag with only their desire to lose weight as a common denominator.
Siobhan Vincent, making a welcome break from farce, gets a chance to show what she can really do with a good, solid, meaty role and, my God, does she shine. A marvellous part, she squeezed every drop of emotion out of it and poured it into the audience.
Rosie (Sarah Langridge) plays a mousy church worker, who is sure that another five pounds and the love of her life will propose. Played beautifully in a muted and downcast, down-trodden way Rosie is Siobhan's 'special' girl.
Claudette (Cathy Parr) is a bar manager and probably the best-adjusted member of the group. Cathy performs stand-up and that depth of experience shows in her simply impeccable timing of her comic lines, and the masterful use of her expressive face.
Charlotte Weber, playing Jean the indecisive (and slender) success of the group is a relative newcomer to Kads, but I would very much like to see her in more. She brings a wealth of experience to the difficult role of Jean.
Celia (Raelene Cover) and Lucinda (Marsha Holt) represent sanity in the group and are played with the usual workmanlike professionalism we expect from these two stalwarts of community theatre.
Which brings me to Kelly (Laura Goodlet) a thin, unemployed, dogsbody of Siobhan's and arguably the hardest role in the play as it has so few lines and Laura must make her points mostly with body language and business, which she does with a subtlety that belies her years.
As far as I can make out this is Laura's first role outside of school and I predict a great future for her if she chooses theatre. Her instinctive grasp of the part, guided I imagine, by the director, is impressive and appealing.
Scene changes and improvised dialogue was provided by Sandro Sando (Props) and Lesley Broughton (SM).
So much for the production of the play - excellent, satisfying and given the exceedingly short rehearsal period, impressive. The Daily Telegraph described it as "A satisfyingly humane and perceptive play that memorably nails one of the great issues of our times" The author calls it 'a comedy'. Both, in my view are entirely wrong.
My difficulty with the play operates at several levels.
Firstly, it's too long, it is a good ninety minute play that runs for two hours. The continuity is poor and several scenes are in the wrong order.
Previous productions (all in the UK, this is the Australian premiere) have hacked great chunks out of it, including deleting the ambiguous last scene - I don't know that I'd go that far, but it would immensely benefit from a good editing or some work-shopping.
Secondly, while it has comic elements it is most certainly not a comedy, not even a black comedy.
In my opinion it is a satiric attack on organised religion and faith as way of life. The use of religious themes and language is strong throughout the play, and Siobhan, as the main voice of the play, has some pretty damning things to say about religion.
The only sort of cleric ends up being guilty of an unpardonable sin and the theme of sin, confession and redemption is very strong throughout, if you transpose 'weight-loss' for 'religion' and 'diet' for 'dogma'.
Lastly, while Siobhan is revealed within the first few minutes of the play to be a bully and an egocentric domestic tyrant, her punishment, eventually meted out by the women, far, far outweighs her sins.
'Tell me the virtue of a proportional response?' asks President Bartlett in The West Wing - this play answers that question in which the women descend on Siobhan like the Wrath of God unleashed.
None of which should for a moment stop you from going to see the play, a highly professional production with good, solid performances, some outstanding acting, and a thought provoking plot line. Bear in mind, despite what you may take from the play, that morbid obesity is not healthy.
Love Me Slender runs at Kalamunda Community Theatre, Barber Street, Kalamunda, at 8:00pm until May the 13th. Tickets cost $20.00, ($17 concession). Bookings may be made at the Lucky Charm Newsagents, Central Mall, Kalamunda on 9257 2668.
As Siobhan says: "Remember girls - not slim for today. Not slim for tomorrow. But slim for life!"