The lighter side of a heavy topic

By Wendy Carson*

Kate Huffman hates her body. I hate my body. In fact, all of the women (and many of the men) reading this hate their bodies. We are taught to do so from the moment we are able to understand the concept of beauty and acceptance. Our society’s definition of female beauty is unattainable, unhealthy and potentially deadly.

“I’m Too Fat For This Show” is a large step in one woman’s journey to come to terms with her OCD, control issues, eating disorder and general neurosis.

She presents both her struggle and unusual outlook by opening with scenes from the video for “No Rain” by Blind Melon (a band, like Huffman, with Indiana roots).

Growing up as a chubby dancing girl, she was often compared to the little “Bee Girl” at the center of the video’s storyline. While she put on a brave face and tried to shake off all of the teasing about her weight, it was a grade-school field trip to Eli Lilly that changed her fate.

She learned about nutrition and how much fat she was actually putting in her body. She vowed to change her habits and began to lose weight. This lead to praise, which reinforced her drive and once her mom introduced her to the concept of counting calories, her fate was sealed.

Her days are filled with logs of calorie intakes, exercise reps, and more data that she and her eating disorder (introduced as her “Best Friend”) use to process her OCD and control her world.

Her Bestie even pops up on the video screen (played by Huffman) to encourage her to “hit her numbers” and remind her she is the only entity that truly cares about her.

This show is a comedy – and quite funny – but obviously also quite dark. It doesn’t hold back on language, or the facts of dealing with multiple disorders and conditions, mental and physical. To give us a perspective on what living with her issues would be like, she plays a scene as her long-time ex-boyfriend. In fact, her talents as an actress and improv performer are on excellent display in the various characters she puts on, including some half-and-half costume work.

Some praise is also due to her director Scout Durwood, and videographers Kenneth and Mariana Lui, for their parts in putting the pieces of this otherwise one-person show together.

It’s a cruel irony that Huffman is actually quite slender, and beautiful, yet only she (and the cruel standards of Hollywood, an issue she also addresses) sees herself as “fat.” But that is the nature of the disorder she and far too many others live with: Irrational impulses are irrational.

Kate Huffman bravely entertains us by sharing her pain, allowing us to admit that, in some ways, we all feel it too.

“I’m Too Fat for this Show” might still have some tickets left for Sunday, Dec. 10, at the IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre – see www.indyfringe.org – before she takes the show to Ireland the next week, then to New England stages. See www.KateHuffman.com for more information on the show and future performances.

*(John also contributed to this review. Considering the personal nature of the show, there was a lot of discussion and collaboration, but this is mostly me.)

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IndyFringe: Neil Tobin, Necromancer: Near Death Experience

By John Lyle Belden

Now that the 2017 IndyFringe festival is done, we all have plenty of time to contemplate our mortality. Fortunately, we got a start on that during the Fringe with Neil Tobin, self-proclaimed Necromancer, and his show, “Near Death Experience.”

Despite his magical title, Tobin doesn’t bring anyone back from the dead (except, maybe, himself – and he did invite us along). But he is a magician, who employs tricks to enhance his talk on facing your future end by living in the here and now.

Illusionists often project an air of mystery, and Tobin exploits this trait to add to the show’s atmosphere. The intimate confines of the downstairs stage at the Phoenix Theatre – a former church building with its own dark history and uncertain future – already give a sense that the veil between life and what comes next is thin. In this supernatural air, his mastery over a small piece of reality – Is this the word you saw and kept to yourself? It is! – makes him our guide to the unknown.

Tobin doesn’t give us The Answers, but perhaps better questions, presenting the irony that by recognizing that death eventually comes, we can accept that life has already arrived. Meanwhile, we get to marvel at some slight-of-hand and sleight-of-mind, delivered with appropriately dark humor.

I add that the more uncertain you feel about the topic of death and dying – the closer you’ve felt to mortality for yourself or a loved one – the more this exercise in morbid optimism is recommended.

Tobin plans to make the experience even more immersive with site-specific performances at funeral homes and cemetery chapels, but your bravery will be rewarded. Discover the beauty of our eternal gardens, and our duty to make the most of time remaining above the sod.

Find information on shows and performances at www.neardeathx.com.

IndyFringe: ‘The Pink Hulk’

By John Lyle Belden

(Yes, I know the 2017 Fringe Festival is over, but the shows move on to points elsewhere, and sometimes return for limited engagements at the IndyFringe theatre building. And if you have been referred here by a link or blurb — welcome! — read on:)

After beating cancer, Valerie David felt heroic. When cancer returned years later, she had to be superheroic.

But she was angry at having to endure chemotherapy again, and at the changes that  treatment would make to her life and her body, especially after exposure to radioactive rays, so her comic-book persona was clear — David (not-Banner) is The (Pink) Hulk!

Being a lymphoma survivor (as Valerie was, in her first found with cancer), I was glad to see that this narrative was about more than breast cancer. However, the fact that the second time was in the breast added a new dimension to her struggle.

The disease not only threatened her life, but how she felt about herself as a woman. Could anyone truly love her or be intimate with her after the disease had taken its toll?

Valerie relates the story of her journey and eventual triumph with frankness and humor — two of the best weapons one can muster against cancer. And most inspiring, she takes on the disease on her own terms: For instance, if she must lose her hair, she sets the date for it to be shorn off and invites her friends to make it a party.

That frankness — about both the disease and the sex life it’s potentially ruining — also makes this a show for mature audiences. But for anyone teenage and up, especially those who know first- or second-hand the difficulties of dealing with cancer, this hero’s journey is equal parts inspirational and fun.

Find The Pink Hulk’s adventures here.

IndyFringe: ‘A Fatal Step’

By John Lyle Belden

How can I add to all the praise heaped upon Jill Vice, the star of the one-woman noir, “A Fatal Step”? Let’s just say it’s well deserved.

Vice performs all the characters in a dark tale suited to old-time radio or dime novels, but set in modern times. A beautiful woman whose devotion edges into manipulation commits everything to a man who finds more gentle and genuine affection with a plain-looking woman he works with; this will not end well.

Vice’s delivery maintains suspense while slipping in the punch lines, making for a thoroughly entertaining experience — and it doesn’t hurt that she’s as lovely and charming as her main character. Still, as she slips from persona to persona, she masters her expression to make all her roles, male and female, distinct.

Yes, add us to her fan club! John & Wendy encourage you to take “A Fatal Step” at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (Aug. 27) at the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.

Festival info: www.indyfringe.com.

IndyFringe: ‘Tonight, Tonight’

By John Lyle Belden

Comedy works best when the comic has someone good to play the jokes off of. In “Tonight, Tonight,” the improv talk show, that person is you!

Mark Cashwell is attempting the TV talk format as a one-person show, no sidekick or bandleader, and the tech in the back is mostly there to play music for the dance breaks — there are dance breaks, you will dance.

You could also be “Tonight”s guest.

To be honest, this show only works if you help make it work. But when you do, the result is hilarious fun.

The show also includes breaks for “commercials,” when familiar local radio ads get skewered.

So give Mark your time, some suggestions, your funky moves, or even silly answers to “What’s your movie about?” and he will give you a highly entertaining hour.

Remaining performances of “Tonight Tonight: An Improvized Late-Night Talk Show” are in a few minutes — 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24 — and at 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the downstairs stage at the Phoenix Theatre, 749 N. Park Ave.

Festival info at www.indyfringe.org.

IndyFringe: ‘Meatball Seance’

By Wendy Carson

John Michael has a new boyfriend!

Now, he just wants to take him home, introduce him to his beloved mom, and have him try her amazing meatballs which are overflowing with her love. There’s just one problem with this, she’s dead. His only hope is to have his new boyfriend help him make a batch in order to bring back her spirit.

We, the audience, are invited to add our collective energy to the process as well as fill in for some of the characters (apparently, John Michael can be a bit difficult to work with, hence the lack of other cast members).

The journey is brilliantly hilarious and touchingly delightful. Although some of this material edges on melancholy and sad, in John Michael’s deft touch, the hope and and joy of his memories of him mom’s love and advice make it side-splittingly funny.

So, make sure you catch one of his two remaining performances at the INDY ELEVEN Theatre in the IndyFringe building – tonight (Monday) at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday (Aug. 22) at 9 p.m. – before you regret missing out. The show is not only a perfect palate-cleanser to your Fringe experience, but a whirlwind of happiness that must be seen.

Remember, that bread must first be torn apart in order to create the breadcrumbs that bind everything together.

Info: www.indyfringe.org

‘The Lord’ commands center stage in divine comedy at Phoenix Theatre

By John Lyle Belden

Scot Greenwell – the talented and popular gay Hoosier character actor and star of plays including “Santaland Diaries” and “Buyer and Cellar” – has not been himself lately.

In fact, it appears that the spirit of The Lord Almighty, in his “mysterious ways,” has taken over Greenwell’s body to bring audiences His divine message in “An Act of God,” through March 12 at the Phoenix Theatre in downtown Indy.

And God must have a sense of humor, as He has angels Michael and Gabriel take the forms of local actors Joshua Coomer and Michael Hosp, respectively. Michael is intermediary with the audience members, finding and relaying their questions, while Gabriel takes care of handling holy scripture, which includes the Lord’s new and updated Ten Commandments.

Those commands include a couple of old classics, plus some directives that just might surprise you. As He works his way through the list, He recalls the events of the Bible from His perspective, including his dealings with son Jesus Christ and the boy’s crazy idea of going to earth to die for humankind. He reveals that since we were made in His image, and we humans have deep issues, imagine how deep His go?

Needless to say, this show is thought provoking, while fortunately very laugh-provoking, thanks to its original Broadway inspiration through the pen of Emmy-winning Daily Show/Colbert Report writer David Javerbaum. God-as-Greenwell reflects back to us common beliefs on issues such as Creation and Old Testament justice in such a way that one feels challenged, no matter what you believe, letting us decide whether the divine tongue was in cheek. For instance, He relates that the universe is truly only thousands of years old and He faked the dinosaurs, but on the other hand, in the beginning the first people were actually Adam and Steve.

In all, this single 90-minute Act is highly entertaining, and even leaves you with an uplifting message at the end. To get your opportunity to be in this show’s divine presence, call 317-635-2381 or see www.phoenixtheatre.org.

John L. Belden is also Associate Editor and A&E editor of The Eagle (formerly The Word), the Indianapolis-based Midwest LGBTQ news source.