‘January Joiner’: fat & thin, funny & scary at Long Wharf

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The Connecticut theater year has gotten off to a great start with the world premiere production of Laura Jacqmin’s “January Joiner” at Long Wharf Theatre’s snug Stage II.

The play is a hard-to-describe mixture of different genres used to examine our current obsession with being as thin and as beautiful as possible — in other words, caring more about our surfaces than what is underneath.

“January Joiner” is set at an upscale Florida spa called Evolve where — rather mysteriously — only three clients have signed up for the restricted diet and intense physical training.

The clients consist of one man (Daniel Stewart Sherman) and two women — the women are sisters, with the slightly plumpish younger one (Meredith Holzman) coming along with her heavier older sister (Ashlie Atkinson) who has just suffered a “cardiac event” that has finally scared her into doing something about her weight.

The only two staff members we meet are trainers Brian (Anthony Bowden) and April (Tonya Glanz) — he is rather laid-back about his work, she is uptight because of being passed over for a promotion and raise.

Jacqmin and director Eric Ting make it clear early on that we are not to expect sustained realism in “January Jones” — a seductive, talking vending machine is introduced close to the start of the play and there are light and sound effects straight out of a horror movie (making the lonely spa as sinister as one of those mysteriously deserted summer camps or hospitals in a 1980s slasher film).

The mixture of comedy and drama and horror feels fresh and it never gets in the way of Jacqmin’s exploration of the body issues of every character in the play. We learn that the manic April is a “thin fat person” (pretty and svelte but with a host of health issues from her severe lifestyle) and get to see flashes of unexpected jealousy on Terry’s part triggered by her thinner but by no means thin sister.

Jacqmin takes a big leap into macabre fantasy in Act Two when a different, slimmer actress (Maria-Christina Oliveras) steps into the role of Terry and Myrtle is horrified by a change in appearance and manner that no one else can see (the “she’s not my sister” moments play like a variation on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

“January Joiner” is not for everyone — there were a few walk-outs at Thursday night’s performance — but it is a very provocative and very entertaining dramatization of an ever-present social and health issue.

(For performance and ticket information, visit www.longwharf.org)

Joe Meyers

One Response

  1. GRAHAM JONES says:

    The loud music was so objectionable that we wanted to leave before the performance began. After the first act was over we were glad to be heading home. The script is not believable and it is so cynical and absurd that we did not wish to see the resolution of the issues raised in the first act. The problem of obesity is horrible, but this horror/comedy scenario does little to solve the problem. The spoons of sugar juxtaposed with various sugar loaded beverages in the lobby was the best part of the show but it was missing from the program so far as I was able to observe in the too dim lighting in the theater before the tragedy of the theatrical misfire commenced. The acting was excellent. It was the staging which was absurd and the horror which was pointless that was so disappointing. Don’t forget the loud music which was so offensive.