“You’re just upset that your fat friend isn’t funny anymore,” says writer/performer Greg T. Nanni in his Free Fringe offering, FAT.
Cisgender men have little practice talking or thinking critically about their bodies. While body-policing disproportionately affects people who aren’t cis or male, the subtle scrutiny that occurs around the intersections of masculinity, productivity, and health often goes undiscussed. I know this because I’ve been a fat guy for almost my entire life. I have yet to see the relationship that men like me have with their bodies explored in a thoughtful way onstage or on screen, in poetry or prose. Unfortunately, after a recorded stream of Nanni’s FAT, I’m still waiting.
Body and identity
FAT is a “vaudeville comedy act starring a Fat person.” We watch Chris (played by Nanni) figuratively, and sometimes literally, crawl through a standup comedy set, expounding upon the existential horror of being fat while wearing a cardboard cutout of a barrel and a porkpie hat. In between his standup bits, Chris flirts with vaudeville-style dancing and slapstick humor in which he knocks down boxes with his belly. At the end, he realizes he needs to escape the confines of the home theater to “climb the mountain” of his life.
Honest discussion about being fat is still a taboo. There is a certain thrill in seeing a fat person spend an hour talking about his body. At one point, Chris considers what his life would be like if he lost 100 pounds. He imagines how his friends and family would lavish him with praise. Then he pauses, looks into the camera, and says, “One hundred pounds and all of a sudden three decades of my life are discredited.” It’s a thoughtful notion that our identities are linked to our bodies, whether we like them or not.
About fat people?
The rest of Nanni’s material doesn’t quite match that level of nuance. Instead, we witness Chris obsess over skinny people (he fantasizes about a place called “Skinny Mountain”), get drunk to escape self-loathing, and strike out on a series of dates. For a show with such provocative potential, Nanni plays it safe. I didn’t feel like I was watching a show meant for me; I felt like I was watching a show about fat people for thin people.
Austin Tooley’s sound design is a production standout. The use of heavy breathing in the show’s beginning and in-between segments brings to mind the shame of worrying that you’re breathing too loudly and disturbing others, a sensation familiar to larger folks.
The digital medium’s limitations hinder the rest of director William Steinberger’s production. As a majority of FAT is performed as a comedy set, the material might benefit from interaction with an audience that was not possible in this piece’s incarnation.
Additionally, while the showing of FAT I watched was intended to be live, technical difficulties required the act to have been prerecorded the morning before. Instead of experiencing FAT over a livestream, we watched a recording of the recorded performance. This unfortunate circumstance demonstrates the type of nimble thinking and creative sacrifices theater artists must make in 2020.
Image description: A fat man wearing a black hat and no shirt stands in a room that is under construction, with raw wood walls. He’s surrounded by cardboard boxes and wears a life-size cardboard cutout of a barrel hanging from a string around his neck.
What, When, Where
FAT. By Greg T. Nanni, directed by William Steinberger. Through October 5, 2020, part of Free Fringe Philly. Watch it here.