Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Call Me Fat

Disappointing DON'T CALL ME FAT at CPT

Özen Yula is a Turkish playwright who has been in-residence in the Cleveland area for the past nine-months under the sponsorship of the Cleveland Foundation's Creative Fusion Program. His play, DON'T CALL ME FAT, is getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Mr. Yula is an internationally acclaimed writer. It was, therefore, with great anticipation that his “American” play was anticipated. Unfortunately, the play and the production, which was also directed by Yula, were disappointing.

In order to fully understand the writing style, it helps to know that traditional Turkish writing, like that of many middle eastern and Arabic cultures, tends to center on parables, story telling, and statements which lead to open ended concepts with no specific conclusion being reached. It is often melodramatic with tones of soap-opera over-exaggerated tragedy, often with a little farcical vaudeville thrown in. DON'T CALL ME FAT is true to that form. It is unrealistic, hard to accept as being a picture of “real” America, though the present ballooning weight of USAmericans, reliance on reality television to create “truth,” and our “fame for fifteen minutes” mentality, are real topics. It's the form and format which makes the script hard to appreciate.

The story basically concerns an excessively obese John Doe, who is so heavy that he cannot move from his bed. He lives with Jane Doe, his sarcastic and nasty aunt and is attended to by Caregiver Tim, an African American nurse. Into his life comes Psychiatrist Kathy Bengal, an aloof and manipulative health care provider, TV Producer Jordan who, with Bengal's help, convinces John to have a potentially life threatening operation in order to lose weight. The second act is an account of the reality show which follows his operation. Well, kind of. To reveal more would spoil the fragile plot.

The production is overly long, lacks clarity of direction, has some almost embarrassing scenes, and contains graphics which make no sense. When the lines describe fireworks, we see rains drops on Lake Erie. The Lady Gaga segment does not contain any images of the flamboyant performer. Maybe this was supposed to be part of the “come to conclusions on your own” approach.

Kevin Charnas, John Doe, is quite slight, so the fat suit he was wearing was made ridiculous by his slender face and thin hands. Again, an attempt at dichotomy? The acting was over-the-top. The screaming, the high pierced yelling, the lack of clear character development, just added to the problems. Knowing the strong acting abilities of many of the cast members makes me believe that their performances were the result of the director's instructions.

Capsule judgement: It would have been so polite to a guest to our city to praise the quality of the writing and production of DON'T CALL ME FAT, but to do so would have been disingenuous.