BWW Review: EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH at Theatre Vertigo
Self-loathing is a fast track to self-destruction. And just because someone doesn't look like a typical runway model doesn't mean they're any less deserving of love. Those are the two ideas at the heart of Sheila Callaghan's EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH, a celebration of body positivity and self-acceptance now playing at Theatre Vertigo.
EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH opens in 1974, as up-and-coming fashion designer Victor, a pretentious, arrogant narcissist, introduces his new spring line. The clothes are gorgeous, the models are gorgeous, and impossible beauty standards have been set. Fast-forward a couple of decades to Jess sitting on her couch, wearing sweatpants. A poster child for self-loathing, she's processing her feelings about the fact that her mother is at death's door -- a mother who she hasn't seen in 18 years, who made her childhood miserable by constantly poking her about her weight, and whose approval she's still seeking. She goes to a bar to drink her feelings and ends up conjuring the ghost of the fashion designer.
The play jumps between the two time periods -- in the 70s, Victor scandalizes the fashion world with a decision to make clothes for the 99.99% of women who don't look like Barbie, and in the present, Jess learns to feel beautiful in her own skin. The script is a barbed indictment of the overblown importance our society places on thinness. As someone for whom clothes shopping is the ultimate torture, I found it delightfully refreshing.
The production, directed by Jessie Hirschhorn, uses the tiny Shoebox Theatre to excellent advantage -- Victor's studio at one end, Jess's apartment at the other, with a runway in between -- and the staging is clever, with ensemble members serving as furniture and other set pieces. And the costumes? Stunning! I felt like I really was at a haute couture fashion show.
Whether they're main characters, walking the runway, or being tables and lamps, the whole cast is solid. As Jess, Kaia Maarja Hillier spoke straight to my heart. I am also a "flannel bagel girl" (i.e., a girl who likes to wear comfortable clothes and eat) who has struggled with weight and body image all my life. Hillier perfectly captures the contradictory combination of being self-conscious and desperately wanting to not be self-conscious that I feel on a regular basis. I also very much enjoyed the performances from Shandi Muff as Louella, an everywoman who unexpectedly finds herself a fashion muse; Adriana Gantzer, who as Esme proves that being skinny and looking great in everything doesn't guarantee you happiness and love; and R. David Wyllie in the small but heroic role of Lewis, Jess's coworker.
EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH runs through March 28. If you struggle with body image, love someone who struggles with body image, or simply think our society suffers under ridiculous beauty standards, it's a play for you. More details and info here.