Vanity. Bulimia. Teenage decadence. Depressing? No, fabulous! Produced in conjunction with the satirical celebrity-gossip Web site Jossip.com, Métropole Ink's glossy production of The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero warns about the gross excesses of teenage life inspired by Lindsay Lohan and other lawless starlets.
Marissa Kamin's play, much like the films Thirteen and Mean Girls, chronicles the decline of a studious and morally upright high school girl, whose desire to be popular leads her into a vapid existence where she's consumed by sex, drugs, and eating disorders. This production differentiates itself from its cinematic predecessors by integrating humorous headlines from Jossip.com along with real blog entries from teenage girls.
The innocent and nameless lead girl (played by Gillian Jacobs) receives coaching from Superstar, a Paris Hilton-like starlet and the voice of coolness, who convinces Jacobs to binge and purge herself into a size zero dress and, thus, into popularity. Jacobs and her "best friend forever," played by Anna Chlumsky, weather the harsh road toward graduation, which forces some typically difficult decisions on them. Should I have sex with my boyfriend? Which colleges should I apply to? Will it make my rear look smaller if I substitute pills and booze for food?
Throughout, Kamin counterpoints the fictional story with several revealing entries from actual blogs, which are delivered by Chlumsky. Meanwhile, Jacobs’s extracurricular partying and her illness take a toll on her studies. She meets with big disappointments and, ultimately, a real-life tragedy, on which Kamin based the play.
Kamin's script crafts a vivid picture of teenage angst, but it has some trouble reconciling its more satirical moments with its PSA-style melodrama. For instance, the scene in which Jacobs learns how to gag herself to induce vomiting is played for laughs, while the repercussions of this disorder are presented in a serious, cautioning manner. Kamin also laces her script with funny pop-culture references, like a line that suggests celebrity culture is done with the likes of J-Lo and is now "all about the Jessicas"—as in Alba, Biel, and Simpson.
While some current references generated laughs, other quips that mention Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton—seemingly oblivious to the former's death and the latter's recent re-imprisonment—seemed outdated and were met with awkward silences. The play's ending came out of nowhere, though it no doubt was included to emphasize the message that bulimia and vanity are bad while academia and wholesomeness are good.
Ben Rimalower stages the play in broad, alluring strokes. Projections, dance numbers, and a hip soundtrack provided by DJ Brenda Black ratchet up the script's trendiness. Rimalower obviously enjoyed staging the script's more vaudevillian scenes, where Jacobs imagines herself the author of a best-selling memoir or the star of a reality-TV show. These interludes express considerably more energy than the script's less fresh narrative scenes.
Likewise, Wilson Chin's metallic scene design and Ben Stanton's colorful light design suggest a swanky urban nightclub, even when the characters are in a bedroom. Since the two leads evaluate their significance by their ability to get into those kinds of clubs, it is an appropriate location for this satirical docu-dramedy to take place. Rimalower and his design team delayed the opening by a few days to work out some technical kinks, and they clearly took that opportunity to shine up the production's aesthetic aspects.
The exceptional five-person cast is the highlight here. Jacobs, as the angst-ridden heroine, accurately illustrates a high school experience familiar to teenage girls, with humanity and the requisite explosive emotions. Chlumsky particularly excels in her blog entry monologues by assuming various dialects to distinguish between different real-life girls. These roles, along with her B.F.F. character, afford her a fine showcase without devoting an excessive amount of stage time to her.
Kate Reinders's Superstar acts as the glamorous Greek—or chic—chorus in these proceedings, and she does so with lots of peppy vamping and charming pop-culture philosophizing. She previously played Glenda the Good Witch in Wicked, and that association only strengthens her role here as a demented "fairy godmother." Brian J. Smith and Christopher Sloan round out the cast by playing all the necessary male roles. Smith plays it uncouth as Jacobs's flaky boyfriend Jake, and Sloan twinkles in a scene as a female college tour guide.
Inventively staged and well intentioned, The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero achieves the "effortless perfection" its lead character so desires in every aspect except for its slightly uneven script. Regardless, this play serves a noble purpose in showing teenaged girls (and, sadly, too many Americans) that there are more fabulous things than being skinny, popular, and famous.