It is not so easy, in our all-embracing media culture, for the ardent theater maker to find an untouched taboo. Incest? Cannibalism? Defacation on stage? Nudity? All have been done, some already by Shakespeare. So it must be with some satisfaction for a playwright to find a subculture of human behavior that has, up to now, not been explored on stage. Terra Nova Collective’s Feeder: A Love Story by James Carter, directed competently by José Zayas, explores “Feederism,” a fetish for fat people. Noel, a nerdy web-designer (Pierre-Marc Dienett), connects via a chat room with Jesse-Marie Scott, a large woman (Jennifer Conley-Darling). Her size and her willingness to let him take control of her body excite him; she, for her part, is thrilled with the enthusiastic attention she receives. He becomes her feeder, committed to her continued expansion; she his feedee, willing to accept his “goal” of increasing her weight to 1000 lbs. When she passes 700 lbs. and is no longer able to stand, let alone move about or leave the apartment, her condition frightens her into contacting a former employer, a TV showhost, who rescues her and brings her to an upstate clinic where she begins to reverse the process she and her now-husband Noel (they married along the way) had initiated.
Feeder: A Love Story, told from the moment when Noel finds Jesse gone, alternates his and her narrations, much of them in flashbacks. Both speak into “webcams” that become parts of video-blogs of their meeting, their life together, the progress toward his goal, and her decision to quit the process. In the last scene they meet in a pizzeria, where the finality of their separation becomes clear and acceptable to both of them.
Feeder tells its story in simple terms, often with humor, and with little attempt to judge the characters' behavior. Yes, she leaves him in the end, and the very real possibility that continuing on to 1000 lbs. might have led to her death is alluded to. But his encouragement on the way to their goal, and the affection they have for each other, are portrayed straight by the capable Mr. Dienett and the very charming Ms. Conley-Darling, without moralistic editorializing. Ultimately, their story is that of any couple fascinated by each other to a point, and who then go separate ways. The particular details of their attraction and eventual separation could almost be exchanged for any other shared interest which one partner eventually outgrows – no pun intended.
What makes Feeder: A Love Story interesting to me is the way in which the electronic media are used to tell the story. The set, a large square with a projection screen on one side, is surrounded by 10 monitors, in which the audience can see, captured by cameras, what they see on stage, with only slightly changed viewing angles. The “blogs” both characters are “feeding," the chat rooms, the community of like-minded fetishists who buy the films that Noel produces about his and Jesse’s project -- these are always present. This makes the audience and its voyeurism part of the much larger virtual world. We are participating in something that, to a large degree, owes its existence to the web. The excitement of their relationship is that it is not only a private experience but also one instantly shared. In fact, Noel does not fully comprehend Jesse’s need to get out into the world again, because thanks to the Internet, they ARE out in the world.
Ultimately, a small, private story is enlarged by its presentation, by appealing to our interactions with social sites, blogs, and web-cams. It could be told without all these trimmings, and would be a minor voyeuristic excursion into a taboo world. Told as it is, it assumes the semblance of importance beyond its simplistic core. Ambivalent as I often am about the use of all this technology, which relies upon a type of viewing to which we are now very accustomed, here it is an apt visual metaphor. Screens become the grantors of reality [guarantors of authenticity?], the avatars of the larger world, as a small story is “fed” into the world wide web and takes on a social presence beyond the lives of the characters.