nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 11, 2007
Self-perception is such a complex thing that develops over many years of confusion, advertising, and bad dates. What I see in the mirror is not what everyone else sees and it's so easy to get wrapped up in what you think everyone else sees. This production shows us how obsessions with dieting, exercise, and our body can be destructive, comforting, and frightening and it does so with extraordinary eloquence and insight.
34:26:34 is a collection of monologues and scenes that tell the personal stories of the performers, six women and one man. The program is strung together with some ensemble pieces in which the cast speaks sequentially and/or in unison. There is a little bit of a throughline surrounding the death of one character. We hear sad and sometimes disturbing stories of struggles with anorexia and bulimia but these are well balanced by a few satirical swipes at the subject. This show is actually a lot funnier than I expected it to be. I liked that several perspectives are presented, even the story of a man who suffers from bulimia. There are quite a few very powerful moments in this production. I was captivated by its honesty and fearlessness.
I really enjoyed the structure of this show. It's very theatrical and that works well for the subject matter. Director James Duff does an excellent job staging a show that presents many stories from different writers as one unified thought. His choreography of the ensemble looks tight and he keeps a fast pace. The sound design (Matt Thomas) really ties things together splendidly.
This is an ensemble-driven performance in every way. They wrote it and they're up there doing it. Much of the writing in very insightful, well-expressed, and stirring, though some of it falls slightly into the realm of a Public Service Announcement. Ann Malinowsky gave me chills in her scene in front of the mirror when she was begging herself to stop making herself throw up. She really lets go and exposes herself. I also enjoyed Danielle Tafeen's character. I know that girl. Gavin Bellour gives a great performance of a monologue written by Duff about his experience with bulimia. The whole cast pulls off a very entertaining, often funny and quite powerful show.
While I enjoyed the perspectives shown I did think that there may have been at least one missing—that of a person with a real weight problem. If you were to look at any one of these girls you'd think they have perfectly beautiful bodies and no reason to worry. I mean, these girls are hot (and so is the guy for that matter). But there was no voice of the food-obsessed overeater. Maybe that's not supposed to fit in here but it seems that this group has as much trouble with body perception, cultural expectations, and dieting as the skinny girls.
Still, this ensemble gripped me. The show gives us a little window into this world of obsessions and destruction and I think it can help open further dialogue. I may be able to suck my tummy in when necessary but I know I can't hide what I look like. This production hides nothing and that honesty makes for powerful and explicit theatre.