In "Worth the Weight", Florence Reiher takes us on a journey into the abyss of anorexia - but we come out the other side with hope, just as she did. Along the way, she takes us down some of the dark pathways where this illness leads its sufferers. But there's also more laughs than you might expect in a show that tackles such a serious subject.
Reiher has partnered with fellow Capilano College alumni Ben Bilodeau as producer/director, and musical director Katie-Rose Connors to craft a well-paced, swift-moving show that balances personal trauma with humour and enlightenment.
Reiher is a strong, engaging figure when she strides out on stage, and quickly has the audience won over as she relates her personal experiences with body issues as she strove to lose weight and conform her body to social conventions and expectations. As an aspiring actress, she found herself in an image-obsessed industry, and the pressure to meet its bizarro-world expectations of skinniness only smoothed the path from healthy habits to life-threatening obsession. When she hands out copies of her former headshot to the audience, the impossibly skinny figure staring out at us takes the breath away - and not in a good way.
At first her self-judgments about her body, with side trips to explain concepts like the "butt shelf", are hard to reconcile coming from a young woman who is a healthy weight and full of confidence. But as she takes us along her ever-more-unhealthy path of weight and food obsession, and transforms into the irrational person who rejected others' concerns with defensive hostility, you get a real sense of how this illness can change people - and push some right over the edge.
The songs are both funny and moving, with delicate melodies dancing in counterpoint to Connors' warm piano accompaniment. I sometimes wished for more memorable melodies, but the music was always well-crafted and literate.
In tackling this loaded subject matter, the show touches on a variety of issues, none of which any 90-minute show can fully do justice to - like what "healthy weight" even means, why some people fall into the sometimes-deadly trap of eating disorders while others escape it, and the responsibility of the media in perpetuating dangerous expectations to vulnerable young people. But in personalizing one woman's struggle, Reiher makes it clear that this is not some sort of failure of will or of logic but an illness, one that can strike anybody.
By the end of "Worth the Weight", I felt admiration for the courage of this young woman to share her deeply personal story, empathy for her struggle, and relief that she made it through. The intimate space of Club XY is the perfect venue for this show and I definitely recommend you check it out.