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The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Gillian Jacobs and Anna Chlumsky
Photo by Monique Carboni.

You'd expect any show produced "in association with" to be as laden with juice as a freshly picked orange. But Marissa Kamin's new play The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero is so tame that its antics would never make the infamous gossip website's front page. If that puts a chink in the show's hipster street cred, so be it - Kamin's satirical cautionary tale has a much different goal in mind: a thorough routing of the fame game.

For most of its 90-minute running time, this sometimes-sparkly, sometimes-somber comedy at the DR2 Theatre achieves just that, with an overlay of brightly polished panache. As directed by Ben Rimalower and played by a crackerjack company of young actors, Size Zero is the epitome of summer cool, even though it would probably like to convince you it's anything but. Its story doesn't want for substance, but in contrast to the status-addicted young woman at its center, it shows you don't have to sacrifice your integrity or natural beauty to get it.

That young woman, given no name but played with razor-honed specificity by Gillian Jacobs, is a high-school senior whose grades and SAT score may be perfect, but who's not immune to the glitz of the celebrity nightclub culture. After she's denied entry into one such hangout, she decides to fight back by becoming one of the glamorous women in the magazines she reads, with one especially flawless Superstar (the glittering Kate Reinders) leading the way.

Kate Reinders
Photo by Monique Carboni.

Losing those excess pounds and her own withering fashion profile isn't enough - there's still the dream of an Ivy League education hovering just within reach. But for a girl who once pursued her studies and extracurricular activities with total abandon, going only halfway into this new lifestyle is not much of an option. And jumping right into the deep end has plenty of consequences of its own, from hot boyfriends to bulimia and perhaps even sadder realms.

It's only in the last 20 minutes or so that Size Zero gives in completely to its moralistic leanings, changing into exactly the kind of stodgy, reproving After School Special the early scenes of the show so scrupulously avoid. When the focus is on the complex interactions between the girl, her similarly conflicted but more grounded friend (played with great verve by Anna Chlumsky), and the Superstar, the play pulses with an irresistible comic energy that helps get the season off to a sublimely stylish start.

Unfortunately, the giddy spirit Rimalower interjects with his swirling, often provocative staging (which makes punchy use of Ruth Lacera's narratory and commentative projections) can't elevate the final scenes depicting the girl's disintegrating decline from The Top. When the play becomes more overtly about the girl's fractured future (including three closely related scenes depicting the evolution and devolution of a torrid relationship built around clubbing), it's as everyone has resigned themselves to the notion that a sad conclusion to a tale like this is nothing more than a necessary evil; the writing, direction, and performances alike become thoroughly obligatory.

Most everything before that, though, is a fittingly flashy, and very funny, trip. Jacobs's subdued sense of humor and beguiling, questioning eyes are an excellent match for a girl who always trusts her own instincts last. Reinders is every inch the spunky, sexy superstar, but bearing an intelligence and knowing social outlook that make her character more than just the Paris Hilton wannabe she resembles. Brian J. Smith and Christopher Sloan are highly entertaining as the two male hangers-on who assume numerous roles in the girl's saga.

Chlumsky brings an intoxicating allure to the girl's less-than-fabulous friend, but is even more effective as a series of blog-writing adolescents, whose struggles with all the same issues punctuate and particularize the action of the play. Morphing seamlessly into young women from all around the country, including (in one of the play's most devastating moments) one we already know, she demonstrates the full range of consequences of the thoughtless pursuit of beauty and popularity at the expense of the individual inside.

These monologues, culled from actual journal entries posted on websites like MySpace, might be a capitulation to familiar form, but burst with a pointed theatricality too often missing in the more pedestrian portions of The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero. It's ironic, if unsurprising, that it's with the anonymous girls of the United States rather than with the headline makers that the true insights and deepest humanity lie.

The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero
Through July 1
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street at 20 Union Square East
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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