by Diana Miranda
Unfussy and rich – that’s what Eating Myself is, in a good way. Although, one of the key takeaways from this one-woman show is that no rich Peruvian dish goes without a fuss. Eating Myself is an endearing monologue by Pepa Duarte about food that navigates the intersections between body stereotypes, family, traditions and cuisine.
The protagonist grew up in Peru and now lives away from home; her mother is a vegetarian, and her grandmother hid meat in the freezer. These four axes plot a map that traces her journey of self-discovery. She narrates it with sincerity and a light heart as she prepares a homemade soup as cherished as it is caloric.
Designed by Laura Arroyo, a few kitchen utensils hang neatly around the stage, displayed ornamentally but practical and at-hand. There’s a clay pot at one end. Duarte mixes ingredients throughout the 60 minutes of the show with a recipe embedded in her story. This creates an atmosphere of complicity, the kind that one may find by entering a home through the kitchen door.
She’s wearing gym clothes (costume and props designed by Carolina Rieckhof) and has tried trendy diets many times, always with disappointing results. There’s a void that doesn’t seem to go away even if she wins the “skinny-bitch award” (which she does at one point, to hilarious effect). Duarte occasionally locks eyes with audience members in fierce glances. Whether that’s to make them complicit in her cheeky diets or hold them accountable for the toxic body stereotypes, that’s on each spectator to decide.
Design elements (by Tom Sochas and Michael Harpur) smoothly accompany the script: from precise lighting shifts and distorted music that underscore nostalgic lyrics, to rhythmic gym tunes running parallel to a calorie-calculating mind. Under Sergio Maggiolo’s direction, these interventions have dramatic repercussions that enhance the effects of the story.
Maggiolo highlights the storytelling through a rhetoric of the body that Duarte executes gracefully. Her corporeality, under Shane Dempsey’s movement direction, is captivating as she slides over the kitchen table or curls herself down slowly while listening to a swirl of opinions about body image. While this corporeality is engaging, her dynamism is mellowed when she’s holding still, and the energy seems a bit inwards at times, but she makes up for this with vocal intensity. The second half comes with a sense of new knowledge and closure that the character shares with spoken word.
As promised by the marketing, the story has a South American flavour. It digs into Peruvian culture and the effect of its traditions. Its audience is very specific in that sense, and it could be expanded beyond the Latin American scope if it further explored the topics and issues at its core. This would not diminish the cultural underscore, but juice the humanity underneath it.
Eating Myself has the unravelling energy of a woman figuring things out. It offers multiple ways to engage as it explores the themes of food, migration, gender and belonging. In this story of intersecting tropes, each spectator may take of it what they will. It’s a heartwarming experience watching the protagonist navigate body image and gender expectations after growing up in a place rich in culinary traditions and family bonds based on the principle of generosity. And tellingly, the symbol of the steaming soup is central.
Eating Myself runs through 23 April.
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