This is the final weekend to catch Elizabeth Petruccione in Waterbury. No, the weight loss guru, popular You Tube celebrity and author of “You Were Born Fat,” is not moving out of the town where she has spent most of her life (and indeed where she successfully lost 93 pounds). The weekend of January 29-31 is the closing weekend of a play based on Petruccione’s life and book at Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre.
It’s called simply “Born Fat,” and has been written by Jacques Lamarre, a Connecticut-based playwright whose quite at home in writing about the relationship between food and emotions as evidenced in one of his previous works, “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” which after its premiere at Hartford’s Theaterworks continues to be produced at professional regional theaters across the country. In addition, Lamarre has just confirmed an arrangement to develop a play based on the autobiography of Chef Rossi, the New York caterer at the Raging Skillet, which was published last fall.
‘Born Fat’ had its premiere last year at the FringeArts Festival in Philadelphia and the production at the Seven Angels Theatre marks its first fully-staged run in Connecticut, though there had been some readings and workshops as a work in progress. It is always a bit fascinating and albeit odd in Connecticut to see a play that is set locally, because it is such a rare occurrence and in this case because Petruccione is still active and visible in Waterbury where she runs her weight loss business, “Losing Weight with Elizabeth,” and continues to upload her series of irrepressible, homey videos to You Tube that showcase the host’s grit and determination as much as her weight loss advice.
Playing Petruccione is actress April Woodall, who won the Outstanding Lead Actress Award at the New York Midtown International Theatre Festival for Lamarre’s “Gray Matters,” who does a remarkable job of capturing the conversational cadences of Petruccione’s voice. The play introduces Petruccione as she meets with a new group of clients interested in obtaining her weight loss advice, which naturally allows the character to share elements of her own story in order to provide confidence and encouragement to those gathered.
As one listens to Woodall relate Petruccione’s story in the amiable, informal style that one finds in the “Losing Weight with Elizabeth” videos, one is unprepared for both the level of sharing that will be encountered and the shocking twists and turns that Petruccione’s life will take. From her reminiscences of her rather brutal, rejecting and unsympathetic mother to Petruccione’s journey through four marriages (the final one took), from her myriad cycles of gaining weight and losing weight and putting it all back on again to the personal tragedies she has had to endure, there’s quite a story to tell and Woodall acquits herself persuasively.
But despite the serious nature of Petruccione’s internal battles with her weight and her complicated interpersonal relationships, “Born Fat” is, most of all, quite funny. It could easily be classified as a biographical comedy since it captures the good nature and outlook that has enabled Petruccione to develop a method that has enabled her to conquer her weight issues and decide to become an entrepreneur with a dedicated following. As Lamarre’s adaptation reveals, Petruccione is able to now laugh at many of the decisions she made in her younger days while still be deadly honest about the various bumps in her road.
This one person show has been directed by Steven Raider-Ginsburg, a co-founder of Hartford’s HartBeat Ensemble, who allows Woodall to roam around the Seven Angels’ Theatre stage, which has been designed by Daniel Husvar to resemble a typical church basement (enabling Woodall to make an inside joke about the arrangements with a certain Sister Mary Amnesia) with a circle of chairs ready to accommodate one of Elizabeth’s classes. There are plentiful projections on the back wall of the stage which feature moments from Petruccione’s life as well as excerpts from her various lectures, including such advice, as “Don’t diet, edit,” and “Don’t eat anything that has to be handed to you through a window.” Matt Guminski’s lighting design helps focus attention on Woodall as she maneuvers around the stage, sits on one of the chairs in the circle, or shares one of her more serious stories.
The dramatic arc of Lamarre’s play questions just how did Petruccione get to the place where is at today, from a childhood when she was starkly told that “you were born fat,” through a series of perhaps misadvised relationships that ended with an unwelcome assist from whoever was her best friend at the moment, past her bouts of self-sabotage after such betrayals that saw her regain whatever she had successfully lost, and through the lengthy process that resulted in a sense of self-determination that ultimately allowed her to take the weight off and keep it off.
When you learn the circumstances of Petruccione’s life, you’ll understand that her story is a heroic one. It’s also an engrossing one, even within the simple context of a brave woman standing up before a meeting and sharing some intimate details of her own life in order to help others discover the best and most self-fulfillingly honest ways to achieve their weight loss goals.
For tickets, call the Seven Angels Box Office at 203.757.4676 for the remaining performances on Friday evening and Saturday and Sunday matinees or visit the theater’s website at www.sevenangelstheatre.org.