Recently, I received an invitation to attend a rehearsal of an upcoming performance of Skin Deep, a Neil-Simon-ish poignant comedy about weight, body image, romance, and relationships.
Although this is not a theater review, I admit that even though the cast was three weeks out from opening night, my wife and I both truly enjoyed it. The play bounces lightly between humorous and tender moments with an unforced ease and the tight cast of four actors performed well with and up against each other. Never did I check my watch – and that’s rare until itself.
However, the reason I was invited was NOT to provide good reviews (um, which I think I just did…) but because the plot, to a large extent, deals with how our inner dialog determines the quality of the lives we lead. Since you’re reading this column, I assume you understand that is one of the pillars about which I write.
Maureen Mulligan, an overweight woman, is afraid of romance because she might get hurt.
Because of her critical self-talk, she masks her pain with humor and conjures up excuses to avoid becoming involved with a sweet, slightly awkward gentleman who sees her for who she is as a complete person, paying little heed to the superficial level of what she weighs.
The playwright, Jon Lonoff, must have been overweight, as he gives eloquent voice to what so many of us with body image “issues” say to ourselves — and then reflects that internal dialog’s outcome in the quality of our lives.
Maureen is prepared to live in unhappy solitude, pacifying the emotional pain with Chinese food.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying — nor is the play — that a woman (nor man) can only be defined by her relationships. However, should we choose to avoid them because we feel unworthy, that’s a pizza with a different topping.
One scene in particular stood out. Maureen, on the phone ordering “take out,” is so embarrassed about how much she’s buying, that she pretends to call out to others in the apartment to see what they want. Of course, she’s alone. Her motive in this pretense is so the person on the other end of the line will not judge her for how much she eats.
I honestly thought I was the only person who did that.
Years ago, while ordering at fast food restaurants, I would plant myself in front of the counter, “talking to myself” out loud, trying to “remember” what the others in the car had asked me to purchase. Actually, I was alone; I just didn’t want the clerk to think I was ordering everything for me.
Can we be honest?
I weighed over 250 pounds; I’m pretty sure the clerk could figure out I didn’t support that much bulk on carrot sticks and celery. More importantly, she probably didn’t care. However, the vital issue is that I felt I had to contort my behavior to appease a stranger to avoid being judged for who I was.
It’s sad — and yes, it’s embarrassing. Yet, how much living do we avoid because of what “they” might say or think? We each have issues; none of us is perfect, and yet we compare ourselves to that non-existent model.
What this play reinforced is that it’s healthier to be boldly who I am — warts and all — then to woefully plod through our short time on this planet, head down, avoiding many of life’s most enriching experiences. I don’t know what the performance would have cost, but that lesson is well worth the price of admission.