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Fringe Festival: Circumference (and the dimensions of humour)

CircumferenceFirst off, a disclaimer: I have no experience at reviewing plays, and I’m probably less perceptive and insightful about plays than the average audience member. So please, take what I say with a grain of salt; it really is just my humble opinion.

I liked Circumference, but I found the audience reactions disconcerting.

Circumference is a one-woman show, written and performed by Amy Solloway from Michigan. It’s about an ample woman who has struggled all her life with her body image, and who is now applying for gastro-bypass surgery. Her (American) health insurance will only cover the costs under certain conditions, including a documented six-month diet and exercise regime. As she embarks upon this regime, she reminisces about (and acts out) various incidents from her life, like being tormented and humiliated by a gym teacher in junior high.

This play was billed as “hysterically funny,” and clearly there were many members of the audience who were amused. But I really struggled with the humour. The show was essentially about self-loathing, and it explored depths of pure pain sugar-coated with self-deprecating humour.

Here’s an example – just one of many because the whole show was like this. She decides to stay home and never go outside again. She says when the paramedics eventually come to remove her 500 pound body from her home, ham sandwiches will fall out of the crevices of her body. The audience roared.

I think I have a pretty good sense of humour, but I just didn’t feel like laughing at that. To me it seemed like the humour lived in the crevices of overwhelming pain. I found it unsettling when other audience members laughed at things like that; it felt like there was some kind of collective cruelty taking place. (And yet I realize that Amy Salloway gives the audience full permission to find it funny – she intends it to be funny – so if she’s okay with it, how come I’m not?)

On the plus side: While the ending seemed a bit implausible to me, I did love the way she physically transformed herself into a radiant woman just by changing her posture and facial expression. It’s worth seeing the play just for that alone. And I liked the setting, which was an intimate little theatre in a basement.

If you want to see it, the schedule and other details are available here.

On the way home I stopped on the bridge and admired the sunset while listening to the strains of Herbie Hancock floating up from the Jazz Festival.

Sunset over the Rideau Canal


9 comments to Fringe Festival: Circumference (and the dimensions of humour)

  • “Amy Solloway’s ‘Circumference’ explores the depths of pure pain sugar-coated with self-deprecating humour.”
    — Zoom! Media

    Maybe the laughter came from her delivery..? Some people find Robin Williams funny and as far as I can tell it’s only because he jumps around and contorts his face in such a way that we assume he’s funny, so we think we’re supposed to laugh.

    All humour is based on varying levels of cruelty. This play sounds like it should have been serious, or maybe darker, but the author was uncomfortable exposing her own story so she threw in a few slapstick-style ‘ham sandwich falling out of folds of fat’ jokes to take the edge off.

    But, just like Robin Williams, sometimes it’s easier to laugh at a bad joke than examine the tragedy.

  • Sometimes we laugh so we won’t cry.

    Sometimes we can’t take things as seriously as others think we should.

    Sometimes we laugh at the shock of self-recognition.

  • Excellent picture, sure makes me miss Ottawa.

  • Linda

    I hear your inner realist, who just doesn’t appreciate the fake out. That play would have made me squirm, too.

    I find jokes just disguise real issues, which I’d rather face square on. And once someone Really, Truly moves past their issues, they don’t have a need to revisit them. I agree–she is mired in her pain performance after performance, and she’s spreading it around. No thanks.

  • Man, just reading about that show made me queasy. Your comment about self-loathing sounds bang on.

    I love to see a show about someone *overcoming* their self-loathing but when someone writes a show about the self-loathing they have yet to conquer, then it’s like they’re asking my permission to continue wallowing in it. And I say “no!” No!

  • Oh maybe I’m giving the wrong impression – I didn’t think she was wallowing. And there is a happy ending, a reconciliation of sorts between herself and her body.

    You know, I hate to say anything negative about this show for two reasons: 1) you can’t help but like Amy. She exudes warmth and charm. It’s a complex subject she’s dealing with, and she does the complexities justice. And 2) she’s reading the reviews on the blogs and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. My criticisms were more of the audience than of her.

    You see? I could never be a real reviewer.

    If you get a chance, go see it for yourself and let me know what you think, ok?

  • XUP

    I think Gabriel is right when he says “all humour is based on varying levels of cruelty” and that’s probably key in this play. The character/Amy knows full well that people make these jokes and laugh at obesity, so rather than allowing herself to be hurt by this she instigates the cruel laughter. And you’re right, Zoom,the pain is still there. I would venture to guess that perhaps your reaction was the one ultimately hoped for by the author. I think we are subjected every day to “jokes” that the majority might laugh at, but which some people would find hurtful.

  • Wince is pretty close to humor sometimes. I could see myself not being in the mood for that.

  • Mo

    I think that specific “ham sandwich” reference would make me cringe knowing a person’s health would have to be very, very bad for that to ever happen.