It”s a rainy Valentine”s Day, and in the Arena Theater, the girls are warming up for a final dress rehearsal. This group of five dynamic women director Heidi Powers and her four actresses go through vocal exercises while the sound man cues up TLC”s “Unpretty.” Then the show begins.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Steven F. Austin State University

Forty minutes later, these actresses, after a final collapse into each others arms and a lowering of the lights, will emerge, liberated, while “You”re Beautiful, Dammit,” blares on the set”s speakers.

“The Most Massive Woman Wins,” Power”s directing project, is an incredible penetration into the female mind. “I want this to start a dialogue,” Powers a senior in the School of Music said, “about who we are, what we think of ourselves, and why.”

The piece, which runs this weekend in conjunction with Basement Arts, is written by Madeleine George. Powers came across the play as a senior in high school, and felt it resounded with her personally. Through a surreal infusion of music, monologues and conversation, the play tells the stories of four women in the waiting room of a liposuction clinic.

The copies of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire that the girls flip through in the opening scene are not arbitrary props. It”s these images of the WB girls and heroin-chic models that have assisted in driving one out of every four women to take refuge in an eating disorder. “This is a very personal subject,” Powers said. “Almost taboo self-esteem is never really addressed.”

This play is not a diatribe of finger-pointing, however. We are not led to believe in any way that it is only the media that have led women to feel like captives of their dress size, but rather a combination of forces boyfriends, husbands, parents, teachers, classmates and of course, ourselves. “Everyone goes through days or weeks or months when they doubt or dislike whom they are,” Powers said.

The issue of body image is especially prevalent on college campuses where women are constantly checking around them to see if they measure up. This play, in particular, focuses on the issues faced by those women who feel that their every action and choice has been predetermined by a few extra pounds on their thighs.

We ultimately come to learn what has driven these women to choose surgical treatment as a solution. We hear of the complaints of one woman”s beer-guzzling husband, one woman”s undergraduate thesis on the topic that has ruled her life, another”s cowering at her mothers overpowering desire for perfection. The audience is immediately thrust into their stories, and the play never loses pace.

Regardless of the issues it presents, this play stands on its own as a compelling piece of theater. It almost feels accidental that so many issues are raised the drama is there without the politics.

The play is both exceptionally acted and directed. These four women work together in a powerful ensemble group. Every actress presents her own self-revelation with conviction and finesse, speaking through the imperative body language as well as by voice.

The audience feels as though they have been let into a million private moments, but these are, of course, the private moments that will hopefully construct public discourse. Powers said, “This has been a very personal and special project.”

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