The use of comedy in treating difficult subjects in theater can be an effective tool for connecting with audiences that might resist such topics as entertainment. Recent plays on the subject of cancer such as Margaret Edson’s Wit and Tania L. Katan’s play about breast cancer, Stages, adroitly use laughter to make such topics more inviting. Plays such as these entertain while they inform. Les Kurkendaal’s 2008 one-man Fringe show, The Attack of the Big Angry Booty, applies humor to the anxieties and health problems stemming from being overweight.
The Los-Angeles based performer is a writer, storyteller and comedian. But to keep bone and sinew together, he tells the audience at Below Zero Lounge that he has had to take a lot of jobs outside show biz. One has been working for Jenny Craig, the weight loss program. His 60-minute show interweaves some of the weight struggles of Craig clients in addition to autobiographical detailing of his own anxious relationship with the scale as he tried to lose 20 pounds.
Kurkendaal, who looks splendid now that his Taco Bell excursions are under control, introduces a gallery of characters in his storytelling style. Sue, who wants to lose weight to improve her sex life; Jill is puzzled as to why her “salad” diet fails to improve results when she climbs onto the scale. Kurkendaal solves that mystery with some hilarity. A competitive mother and daughter try to lose weight together. But their conflicts connote deeper psychological hostilities with each other.
Meanwhile, Kurkendaal explores his own weight struggles that include the temptations of overeating while performing on the road, the trance-like loss of willpower at Taco Bell and self-deprecating remarks about his physical appearance. His self-commentary includes paranoia about something that seems to be following him when he looks into a mirror nude. Just what his stalker happens to be is a funny revelation.
Basically, Kurkendaal’s mix of the personal with the Craig vignettes is a workable idea. The problems that keep his show from achieving its potential go to structure not material. The better forms of storytelling have what the theater calls an “arc,” that is, a structure that moves from exposition to some sort of crescendo to resolution (or at least insight or perspective).
Kurkendaal’s weight loss account is a journey. At the outset, he profiles overeaters and finally identifies the type of eater he is. But unfolding his experience eventually proves redundant. He keeps getting off and on a chair that serves as a scale. Its readings cause a repetition of frustration/accomplishment/frustration and so on. If the ups and downs of the scale do reflect the essence of his weight battles, then he needs to edit the material. We get it after three or four weigh-ins.
The greater disappointment in the show is the client stories. Some of the people Kurkendaal re-creates, using different voices and mannerisms, really are quite interesting portraits, such as a woman who comes to Jenny Craig who is not overweight.
The show would be more involving if some of these client stories were more developed. As it stands, he really does little more than cataloguing. When a character is introduced, interest is barely established before we return to Kurkendaal’s scale for more ponderings on his poundage. This show about being overweight is anorexic when it comes to substance.
— Jerry Stein