DeShawn Harold Mitchell & Nicole Spiezio. Photo: Jonathan Roberts
Nicole Clark is Having a Baby
Written & directed by Morgan Gould
A review by Allie Keel
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Allie Keel. All rights reserved.
While Actors Theatre has doubled down in recent years on their efforts to represent marginalized people onstage, one group has remained absent, or at the very least, has been continually relegated to a supporting character; fat women.
Fatphobia–or fatimisia or sizeism–is omnipresent and vicious, and in a great number of places is still accepted as a reasonable or healthy way of treating people.
One of the many (6 x10²³) ways fatphobia expresses itself is the obligatory thinness of people on stage and screen, specifically women on stage and screen, and it’s something that has been true at Actors Theatre – at least in the plays I’ve seen in the last six or seven years.
Morgan Gould’s Nicole Clark is Having a Baby fearlessly dives into the seldom-explored territory of the lived experience of a fat woman. Nicole Clark (Nicole Spiezio) is unequivocally the center of this play, and its main interests are her struggles with her mother Helen Clark (Nancy Robinette). Nicole is a self-identified and objectively fat woman who embraces a healthy at every size philosophy. Helen – a newly thin woman who was fat for most of her life – does not and never did. Gould’s play is hilarious, and even tentatively heartwarming, but it is also full to the brim with painful body blows. Gould’s unblinking script presents many ugly truths of being a fat woman, with a focus on the trauma a parent can inflict on their child.
The playwright also directed, and has pulled impressive performances from all the actors.
The revolutionary act of representing fat women on stage shouldn’t overshadow the well-crafted comedy, character, and dialogue on display. Sure, Gould is telling her truth, but she isn’t only telling her truth. The use of repetition in the dialogue and comedic callbacks keeps the laughs coming, but also builds character and supports the themes. We see the fights that mothers and daughters have had over and over again, the obsessions and fixation that often come hand in hand with orthorexia, or even the way old friends reunited have a habit of recalling the greatest hits of their shared experiences.
Though the main event in this play is the generational fatphobia and contention between Nicole and Helen, most audience members can see reflections of their own struggles, be it between a child and a parent, a lover unable to help their partner, the grief over a lost loved one, the pain of returning home, and probably a few other layers I missed.
As the dueling centers of this play, Spiezio and Robinette give powerhouse performances. Spiezio is loud, funny, outraged and damaged. She manages not only to play the version of Nicole we are seeing on stage but also to convey the generally happy, most comfortable in her skin person Nicole is when she isn’t around her mother and isn’t having every childhood pain triggered and picked at.
Robinette gives a performance grounded in solid character work. It’s smaller, tighter, and much quieter. It’s not subtle per se, more like passive-aggressive. Her silences are scathing.
Gould also allows stand out moments for the supporting characters. Amy Renna (Emily Kunkel) is a delightful reversal of tropes; the thin best friend. She has an uncomfortable, gorgeous, and hilarious monologue wherein Amy can’t make it all the way through one well-meaning yet nevertheless really messed up and problematic sentence. It’s comedic excellence.
Robert Arnold (DeShawn Harold Mitchell) gets the least interesting material with which to work. He isn’t quite a boring, himbo, obligatory love interest, but he is there as a strong supportive (hot) man showcasing the fact that while finding love matters to many people, it is not the be-all end for fat women. He lacks dramatic agency, but still provides a much-needed presence and viewpoint as the (ipso facto underrepresented onstage) fat woman’s loving partner who is doing their best – and often failing – to help heal the wounds of abuse that have accrued through their partner’s life.
One nitpicky piece of pedantry; the action involves a lot throwing away of trash (Helen clearly can’t let garbage sit around). On the opening night that trash was placed into an unlined garbage can. Put a trash bag in there, you monsters or weirdos like me will miss sizable portions of dialogue thinking about the who, when, and how of cleaning what I’m pretty sure was a simplehuman® Dual Compartment Rectangular 58-liter Step Trash Can. In brushed steel.
That wouldn’t have been an issue if every other aspect of Lauren Helpern’s scenic design hadn’t been completely lifelike. The action all occurs in the kitchen and dining room of Nicole’s childhood home. Looking at it felt exactly like stepping into someone’s mom or grandmother’s house. In a creepy way.
This play will be deeply personal and very difficult for many women who see it. I’ve been married for almost 13 years to a self-identified and objectively fat woman. The catharsis of Nicole Clark was made that much more intense by the fact that in the 30 plus years she’s been attending the theatre, she’s never seen the pain of her experiences as a fat woman represented onstage with truth and compassion. There was some intense processing for us both after the show.
Nicole Clark is Having a Baby is excellent and you should go see it, but it’s one play. There are a lot of other stories to tell about fat women. There are also -perhaps even more importantly- countless roles with women falling in love, dealing with death, learning lessons, singing songs, speaking Shakespeare, and doing every other thing that humans do onstage and in life.
99% of those roles aren’t about “thin” women. It’s time for theatres to stop casting them that way.
Nicole Clark is Having a Baby
March 6 – April 12, 2020
Part of the 44th Humana Festival of New American Plays
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Allie Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen them around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. They are a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen them stuffing their face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When they aren’t too busy writing short stories, they blog at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.
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