Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Rose: You Are Who You Eat
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, Topdog/Underdog, and Long Way Down

John Jarboe, with Yifan Huang at the keyboard
Photo by Teresa Castracane
Rose: You Are Who You Eat, the current one-person performance at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, defies easy characterization. The performer, John Jarboe (who uses she/her pronouns), created the work based on her singular life experiences. At times it resembles a public therapy session, rather uncomfortable but undeniably compelling, and it's utterly theatrical, incorporating both live music and audience participation.

Artifice and appearances are at the heart of the 90-minute show, nimbly directed by MK Tuomanen. Before the action begins, the audience sees snapshots from Jarboe's childhood projected on a scrim as a live camera shows the performer sitting onstage, having a snack. Christopher Ash designed both the video and the scenery, a surrealistic picture of encroaching green vines and many, many roses; Kate McGee's lighting design mostly illuminates billowing sheer curtains in deep rose or gold.

What planted the seed for this examination was a long-ago comment by the artist's aunt: Jarboe was one of a set of twins in utero, but the other (who would have been named Rose had she survived) was absorbed into the other fetus–or, in the words of her aunt, "You ate her. That's why you are the way you are." The heart of this production is the way it allows Jarboe to honor the life Rose never had the chance to experience.

Be warned that nothing is off-limits to Jarboe, who refers to herself as "a healthy eater" and mentions her search for a support group for "recovering cannibals." (As she notes later, the medical term is "vanishing twin," and her mother assured her that her aunt's comments were not true.) She began seeking positive examples of nontraditional gender presentation after realizing that mainstream culture treated such people as clearly disturbed, such as the unbalanced Norman Bates in Psycho.

The musicians–Emily Bate, musical director and guitar; Yifan Huang, keys; Daniel de Daniel de Jesús, cello; Mel Regn, drums–provide spirited support throughout the performance. Rebecca Kanach's costumes demonstrate the shifts in Jarboe's identity, from child hockey player to drag idol.

Rose: You Are Who You Eat runs through June 23, 2024, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-393-3939 or visit

Conceived, written, and performed by John Jarboe
Directed by MK Tuomanen
The Bearded Ladies Cabaret production
Rolling world premiere with FringeArts and La Mama ETC from a commission by Works & Process at the Guggenheim