BWW Review: Domenica Feraud's RINSE, REPEAT Explores The Cycle of Habits That Trigger Eating Disorders
Perhaps if, like most first attempts at playwrighting penned by a young unknown who is also cast in the leading role, Domenica Feraud's RINSE, REPEAT had a modestly-produced premiere production in a small black box theatre, this reviewer would be more enthused to recommend an interesting work in progress by a new and underrepresented voice.
Especially since the subject is eating disorders; specifically, in this case, how a patriarchal standard for women's bodies influences habits in women that are copied, sometimes to serious extremes, by the young girls who look up to them.
And since Feraud has mentioned in articles that she was inspired to write RINSE, REPEAT because, after her own experience with an eating disorder, she was frustrated to see how rarely the subject provides the central theme in stage works, it's hard not to root for her.
But director Kate Hopkins' production has a fine supporting company of stage actors playing on an impressively realistic set by designer Brittany Vasta at a high-profile Off-Broadway theatre with tickets sold at standard Off-Broadway prices. Whether fair or not to point out, the promising, ambitious play doesn't seem ready to be showcased on such a prominent level.
The problem appears to be that, as expressed in her program notes, the playwright is on a mission to educate the audience about the misconceptions about eating disorders and those who are stricken by them. The characters, speaking in didactic tones, appear controlled by plot points as the play's short scenes address their issues neatly until a climactic ending appears without a sufficient build-up.
Feraud plays Rachel, a 21-year-old Yale student who has spent several months at an in-patient facility being treated for anorexia. Her case worker Brenda (Portia) is allowing for a trial weekend with her family in Greenwich, Connecticut, and has sent strict instructions on how Rachel is to eat three meals a day that provide sufficient amounts of carbs and fats. Someone must be present with her at all meals to make sure she consumes them. The most immediate goal is to get Rachel to the point where she starts having her period again.
Nearly all the action takes place in the kitchen, which serves as the communal meeting place. Rachel's father Peter (Michael Hayden), who primarily prepares family meals and her college-bound younger brother Brody (Jake Ryan Lozano) are both hearty eaters who work out regularly.
The play's main conflict involves her mother, Joan (excellent, subtle work by Florencia Lozano), a successful attorney who hopes to see her daughter follow in her footsteps. As a Latinx woman in a field dominated by white men, Joan eats very little for the sake of remaining thin. She may appear fit and healthy, but her regular diet of black coffee and non-fat Greek yogurt is more of a sacrifice she makes for her career than a preference.
Believing that all her daughter needs is the will-power to get over her situation, Joan diverts from her responsibility to follow Rachel's meal plan when she's needed to handle a work emergency.
Rachel took up creative writing during her treatment and a sample of her poetry includes allusions to suicide. When left alone we see her carefully feeling the weight of four identical bagels, so that she can eat the lightest. She also strips down to weigh herself in order to see the lowest possible number on the scale.
For most of the 90 minute play, Feraud's performance is subdued to the point where it's difficult to hear her compared with her on-stage colleagues. It also lacks the necessary nuance needed to convey the emotions Rachel is feeling when confronting the causes for her circumstances.
No doubt there are many who will have a legitimate emotional reaction to RINSE, REPEAT, as it covers many aspects of a difficult subject. The piece certainly has educational value and would make a fine prelude to workshops and discussions about eating disorders. It's just not at the point yet where it works as a realistic drama.