BOTTOM LINE: Clever staging and a witty script with a twist make Binge a fun night at the theatre.
Although body image is a somewhat common topic in modern theatre, it's usually presented from a female character's perspective. So the fact that the morbidly obese protagonist in Binge is a male, makes the story all the more intriguing. It also makes the audience ever so slightly more sympathetic to the struggle.
After a lifetime of binge eating and caloric intake for two, Doug (Brent Bateman) is finally in a financial position where he can afford gastric bypass surgery. It's the ultimate solution to his self-conscious existence. Doug wants to be thin. "Who doesn't?" his doctor reminds him. Doug is tired of being the nice guy and relying on his charm and sense of humor to make friends and get girls. The surgery will change all of that, he is certain.
Binge looks at the psychological implications of such an invasive operation. Through sharp writing and an approachable understanding of what drives the characters, Thomas Ward's humorous new play provides an intuitive glimpse into Doug's overweight world. With a subtle reminder that people aren't inherently good, Binge feels like a less angry Neil LaBute play. Self-gratification is key and the easiest way to get there drives the characters.
All four actors do an excellent job making their flawed personas endearing. Doug's obesity is self-inflicted, what with 4 McDonalds hamburgers and a big order of french fries comprising his regular lunch, yet the audience wants him to get the surgery and feel better about himself. Doug's best friend Chris (David Lee Nelson) is a misogynistic slacker, but he's there for Doug in a pinch. The woman of Doug's affection, his pizza delivery girl Beth (Therese Barbato) is pushy and maybe bi-polar, but we hope her flirtations with Doug are genuine and not just because she knows he will lose weight soon. Similary, Doug's doctor (John G. Preston) doesn't actually care about Doug's psychological well-being, but bedside manner isn't really important with vain procedures such as this.
Adam Knight's smart direction keeps the energy rolling through this 80 minute, intermission-less piece. The set design by Jonathan Wentz makes amazing use of the small playing space; Binge is visually purposeful, creative and professional looking. Overall, this production employs a great design aesthetic - really very impressive.
Unfortunately, as I write this review, this show prepares to close. With just a two week off-off-Broadway run, the show got its feet wet but probably didn't achieve it's ultimate goal in terms of scale. I hope it gets another chance at a fully-mounted production, with a bigger space and better marketing, because it's a really entertaining script, perfectly suited for savvy New York audiences with good senses of humor.
(Binge plays at The Drilling Company Theatre, 236 West 78th Street, through August 8, 2010. Tickets are $18. For more info visit slanttheatreproject.org.)