Theatre Review: “Does This Show Make My Butt Look Fat?” at TOTS

Juli Inskeep, star of "Does This Show Make My Butt Look Fat?"

My friend Adrienne organized a group of women to meet at Theatre on the Square in downtown Indianapolis to see beloved local improv artist Juli Inskeep star in “Does This Show Make My Butt Look Fat?”  The mostly-one-woman show was written by Joni Hilton and directed by Juli Inskeep’s father, Donald Barnes.

We had a wonderful time.

Juli told us later that she was very glad she had not tried to do this show four years ago, before Bil Skaggs asked her to join IndyProv, a local comedy improv troupe.  “Does This Show…” is a scripted piece, but it encourages the audience to participate actively, so her improv experience is now helping her roll with whatever the audience throws her in this show.  Even more so than usual in live theatre, anything can happen in this raucous, interactive piece about one woman’s self-deprecating experience of being obsessed about her appearance.

In fact, when Assistant Director/Stage Manager Thomas Turner made the curtain speech the night we were there, he told us to feel free to laugh and join in or whatever but reminded us that “this is a performance” not a casual conversation and not something pre-recorded.  Later he told me that this is “my first audience participation show” and that it has been a learning experience for all of the cast and crew in more ways than one.

Juli, for example, has learned to remind the men that she brings up on stage from the audience to compete in a dress-up race that it is supposed to be a friendly competition.  “Relax,” she tells them now before she signals them to start pulling on bra, girdle, etc. as fast as they can.  “You’re just competing for chocolate.”

I laughed when I heard this.  I could totally believe that some male members of previous audiences have gotten carried away and tried to sabotage each other’s suitcases instead of struggling into their own female gear.  The theatre sells beer and wine in the lobby, which makes people drop their inhibitions even further.  AND everyone gets a bite or more of chocolate candy or chocolate brownie during the show, which makes everyone hyper.  Plus, it’s just that kind of show.

Well, actually, I don’t really know how to categorize this show.  Juli plays “Juli” – i.e., herself – which makes me think of oral tradition storytelling.  However, she uses the language, stories, accent, and character from Joni Hilton’s script, and there is a supporting actor, all of which makes me think of theatre. Most of the stories as written are not especially well-crafted as far as stories or even anecdotes go, which makes me think of therapy…or friends sitting around talking.  Some of the audience participation segments make me think of television talk shows. The script has a lot of one-liners, which makes me think of stand-up.  And, as Juli is learning as she performs fearlessly to sold-out audiences night after night, this show has a lot of improv qualities to it.

It defies categorization.

The script does not dig deeply into its subject – what it’s like to be fat and why size should not be one’s sole obsession – and sometimes the script wanders off on random paths that go nowhere, but Juli and her eager, ditzy, little maid, Lupita (Sharon Cruz), make the experience fun even so. 

Don’t bother wondering how a no-frills character like Juli’s can even afford a maid, especially one wearing a sexy black uniform like Lupita’s.  She just can.  (Costume design by Thomas Turner.)

Juli Inskeep is truly physically beautiful…and truly believable in this role – both as a person who mistakenly thinks her size makes her ugly and therefore worthless, and as a person who is determined to concentrate on developing her inner beauty because really, that is what matters most in the long run anyway.

My favorite line of the play is the last one.  (I think it’s the last line.  Maybe it’s the last paragraph.)  I won’t spoil it for you by repeating it, but I loved it, and Juli’s delivery of it.  I left the theatre shaking my head at the playwright and thinking, “Oh, girlfriend, you have only scratched the surface of this journey,” but smiling and feeling good anyway.

The set, designed and constructed by jack-of-all-trades Thomas Turner, is a quirky confection of lime green, purple, and aqua, with sparkly, three-dimensional embellishments, changeable parts, and white-painted silhouettes of furniture and accessories.

According to my program, Thomas Turner is responsible for all of the design elements except for the lighting, which was designed by Kevin Brown.  I laughed out loud when I read that Turner is even responsible for Bathroom Maintenance, assisted by Ron Spencer.  I don’t know who was responsible for the occasional video inserts, but they were fun, too. 

(By the way, if you have a choice of seats, go all the way in to the Stage Two space and sit nearer the tech booth than the entrance so that you will be able to see the video screen well. It’s not that big a deal either way, but if you have a choice…)

Theatre on the Square partnered with Dress for Success for this show.  According to Juli, it has been a mutually beneficial partnership.  TOTS has been collecting donations for Dress for Success and DfS has brought new audience members to the theatre through its advertising of the show and through other coverage by media intrigued by the partnership.  I sat next to a woman who had seen an article about the partnership in the Indianapolis Star, for example.  She came with her husband and several other couples in a group that often goes out together. 

“This is our first time to this theatre,” she told me. “We called ahead to see if men would like this show, too.”  Everyone in her group seemed to be having a good time.  They were curious about TOTS’s main stage, too.

Juli told me later that TOTS and DfS were also offering a special performance and reception just for selected Dress for Success clients and staff.

“Does This Show Make My Butt Look Fat” was originally scheduled to close this weekend, but it was extended to Saturday, May 16, 2009 because the first performances sold out so quickly. (No Sunday show on May 10.)  To make a reservation and/or to inquire about further extensions, please call the Theatre on the Square box office at 317-685-8687. 

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

2 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Does This Show Make My Butt Look Fat?” at TOTS”

  1. Thanks Hope. I wanted to let you know that as of last night we have sold out until May 15 so we are extending an additional 2 weeks making the closing of the show May 30th, just friday and saturday performances.

    Thanks to everyone for the constant support.

    Juli Inskeep

  2. That’s wonderful, Juli! Congratulations! Thanks for letting me and my readers know. I will mention it on IndyTheatre on Twitter, too.

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