Wednesday, February 12, 2020

One Woman on the Perils of Beauty – “Solo Fest” at ACT Theatre

Susan Lieu (Brett Love)

Over 140 LBS
Bread Crumbs
Left on Yellow Brick Road
ACT Theatre/ACTLab
Through February 16, 2020

ACT Theatre is producing its very first “Solo Fest” this month, anchored by a show by Susan Lieu that Lieu has done several times, in the area and then took it on the road to several other cities. Three other performances are also included and this weekend, you can potentially see three of the four, if you work quickly. Seats are limited.

Sherif Amin created Left on Yellow Brick Road, for which the description reads, “When a boy from Egypt unexpectedly finds himself in the Land of Oz, he travels to a place past the Emerald City where he stays. Soon he starts to wonder, is it better to stay in Oz or find his way back?”

Jasmine Joshua created Bread Crumbs which is an exploration of how they discovered, over many years, that they were non-binary. I have seen a couple of their iterations of this work and each time it is interesting, emotional, revealing, and thought-provoking. I expect no less from this outing.

Joshua’s journey encompasses the fact that they have twin girls and a husband and also developed a drag persona named Harvey Gent for which they now dress up as half Harvey, half themselves in a visual representation of that exploration.

Lieu’s autobiographical show was generated by the effect of the death of her mother from a botched tummy tuck by a doctor who should have had his license yanked far before he met Lieu’s mother! Lieu was eleven. It was entitled 140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother. The weight refers to both her mother’s and her own weight. Apparently, after her mother died, no one in her family, not her father, not her siblings, not her aunts or grandparents, wanted to speak about it. It was as if her mother poofed off the earth.

While it’s not entirely clear that this silence was only generated by Vietnamese culture (Lieu implies that “culture” has a lot to do with it), it certainly caused Lieu to feel like she was never mothered. Exploring the exhortations toward perfect physical beauty is something that women of every background experience. It’s pretty much built in from birth. Lieu’s focus shows how much it’s imbedded and how it boomerangs back onto her.

Now, Lieu is weeks away from giving birth, giving rise to the change in title, and she tells us about how many different feelings and needs she has regarding mothering and parenting. Lieu’s unique focus on her Vietnamese family has her relating harsh comments from family (“If you eat papaya, you kill baby!”) as soon as she tells them of her pregnancy. Suddenly, there are lots of warnings about what to do or not do, how to eat or not eat.

The pregnancy makes her feel even more desperate to learn about her mother and to remember her. Her journey to find out what her mother was like brings her to a moment of the play where she imagines a conversation with her mother, bringing her mother to life on the stage.

The piece is an emotional one, infused with music and video. While her story is specific to her, an aphorism about theater is that the more specific it is, the more universal is the connection to the story. If you’re a parent, you can easily connect to the fears you had before the baby came. If you’re childless, whether by age or by choice or circumstance, you can connect to the unknowns of taking care of another being you’ve never met.

But overall, the subject brings up how our individual traumas affect and inform our lives. Lieu is so vulnerable that you might find yourself, as I did, wanting to rush up to her and give her a reassuring hug. I think that means I felt affected by her performance, don’t you?

For more information, go to or call 206-292-7676.

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