Fading away

A dramatic look at anorexia inScarecrow
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  April 15, 2008

As with a lot of people whose lack of self-awareness is their basic coping mechanism, David Moore is a pretty chipper guy at the outset ofScarecrow, a Daydream Theatre Company production at Bell Street Chapel through May 31. But this basically autobiographical play, written and directed by Lenny Schwartz, is about anorexia, so we can be sure that David’s smile is about to fade along with the rest of him.

Played by Dillon Medina with a relaxed and natural charm, David declares that “for me, life is good,” in the first of many addresses to the audience. He is doing well as a college theater major and is glibly self-assured enough at a school dance to attract a woman, Kerri Johnson (Alanna Sousa-Pullan), whom he begins dating. This friendliness is in stark contrast to his aversion nearing hostility toward Arnold Shoe (Bill Lange), who wants to be friends. Arnold is overweight, and David doesn’t want to be seen with him.

His best friend, going back to when they were kids together, is the talkative, punky and pierced Jenny Wray (Maya Santan­drea), who encouraged him to go after Kerri at that dance. Back when she came out as a lesbian and even her mother wouldn’t understand, David was the only friend she could talk to.

At home David contends with a Zoloft-popping, self-absorbed father (Dan Brown) and a hapless, not-too-bright brother, Stuart (James Kelly). David describes his mother, Arlene (Paula Dugan), as “a little overbearing” and “like Wilma Flintstone gone wrong.” She presses food on him, as motherly DNA dictates. He is annoyed but, considering her repeated nagging, his reactions still seem in the normal range. His refusal seems a little odd, though, when he turns down a slice of the chocolate birthday cake that his mother has baked for him. David reveals to the audience that he was a tubby kid, and he didn’t get down to normal weight until the summer before the 10th grade. David sounds casual about not wanting to gain it back, but we sense desperation behind his voice.

In the first of several fantasy glances into the torment of his black moods, all the women in his life surround him and might as well be little devils with pitchforks as they tease him about being fat as a boy. His self-image these days revolves around one thing: being thin, so that people will like him.

When his girlfriend Kerri mildly suggests that he eat a little more, they argue about something else, and what could have blown over quickly gets out of hand. He is cruel to her and she doesn’t want to have anything more to do with him.

The playwright examines the psychology of anorexia with patience and perceptiveness, which isn’t necessarily easy to accomplish from an insider’s point of view. David learned to translate compliments for his trim good looks into subconscious warnings that he would disgust people if he put on weight. His self-discipline makes him feel superior, not only when he turns down dessert but also later, when his weight has dropped to double digits and the only way he can feel good is by reducing the two-slice turkey sandwiches he subsists on down to one slice. 

This Daydream troupe has various levels of acting experience, and though they took a while to warm up on opening night, the principal actors all came to at least one or two scenes that they made work especially well. These were usually moments when the characters were trying to get through the annoyed or angry resistance of David. As David, Medina seemed more comfortable, and amiably convincing, with the  carefree moments of the first act than with the later occasions for emotional exchanges. In contrast, characters with vivid personalities, such as his girlfriend and girl friend, had moving scenes with David when they slowed down and were merely, humanly comforting. Kelly needs to be singled out for how well his character, the simpleminded brother, accomplished this, transcending his limitation through paying heartfelt attention.

Scarecrow is worth seeing for its unsentimental insights into a common disorder not usually associated with men, and for its examination of self-delusion, the warning signs of which we can all use a lesson in.

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