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Rinse, Repeat

Theatre Review by James Wilson - July 31, 2019

Domenica Feraud and Michael Hayden
Photo by Jenny Anderson

At the conclusion of Domenica Feraud's new play Rinse, Repeat, audience members are invited to pick up informational brochures about eating disorders. Published by NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), the leaflets provide resources for identifying the various kinds of eating disorders and offer recommendations for getting help. In its conscious effort to shed light on this pervasive problem and expose the complexities of the illness, Feraud's play has a great deal in common with the brochures. To both its credit and detriment, Rinse, Repeat seems as much a PSA as it is a realistic family drama.

The play revolves around Rachel (Feraud), a student on leave from Yale, who has spent the past four months in an intensive treatment program for anorexia. She is home for a trial weekend, and during that time she must negotiate tense family dynamics that were contributing factors to her eating disorder. Most welcoming is her father Peter (Michael Hayden), who is doting and supportive, but he has his own flaws as a family man. Her brother Brody (Jake Ryan Lozano) is a typically sullen teenager, who appears to be more interested in his girlfriend and sports than he is with matters of the household. He also exhibits residual anger for the pain his older sister has caused him and his family.

Rachel's most difficult relationship is with her mother, Joan (Florencia Lozano). Perhaps the most fully realized character, Joan is the family's main breadwinner and is a powerhouse lawyer and partner in a prestigious law firm. Joan expects her daughter to follow a similar career trajectory whether or not Rachel has other vocational aspirations. "That girl and I have had a plan," Joan tells her husband, "since before she was in kindergarten." As a first-generation American, Joan conceals the oppressive burdens of being a Latina in a white-male dominated profession behind a steely demeanor. Nevertheless, her own vulnerabilities and self-destructive coping mechanisms occasionally emerge.

Florencia Lozano
Photo by Jenny Anderson

Over the weekend stay, old wounds are ripped open, and Rachel must confront personal demons that may lead to relapse. A visit late in the play by her therapist Brenda (Portia) reveals what is at stake for Rachel as she attempts to stay on the track to recovery. As Brenda explains, dealing with an eating disorder is an ongoing process (hence, the significance of the title), and individuals are ultimately responsible for their own eating behaviors and attitudes.

In a lengthy program note, Feraud describes the genesis of the play, which was written out of frustration with not seeing the issue of eating disorders represented on stage. Consequently, the writing tends to emphasize the message at the expense of nuanced character development. That said, there is considerable value in highlighting the social and cultural roots of the problem as it affects people across the generational and socio-economic spectrum. The play also addresses the biological and physical effects of eating disorders, post-treatment nutritional plans, and helpful ways to support afflicted individuals.

Indeed, the subject matter fits in nicely with the kitchen-sink dramatic genre. This conceit is impeccably idealized in Brittany Vasta's set, which cleverly discloses several different rooms within one kitchen. (Oona Curley's lighting and Nicole Slaven's costumes contribute to the faultlessly realistic milieu of the well-to-do Connecticut brood.)

Directed by Kate Hopkins, the production elicits solid performances. As the star of her own play, Feraud effectively shows the moment-to-moment struggles of living with this life-threatening disease, and the naked truth (both metaphorically and literally) behind eating disorders. As Peter, Hayden brings the right amount of paternal affection to his role while also intimating the character's darker side.

Florencia Lozano is especially good. Every gesture, every stir of her coffee cup, every side-eye glance at the other family members as they fill their plates with food is meticulously executed. She is a riveting on-stage presence. Like other passively lacerating matriarchs in theatre and film, such as Beth in Ordinary People, Momma Rose in Gypsy, and Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night, Joan is both victim and victimizer. Lozano's performance is disturbing in its ability to simultaneously evoke pity and revulsion.

Unfortunately, Rinse, Repeat does not nearly rise to the level of a classic. It is, however, a good play with a fair share of melodramatic reveals, and it is centered on an important issue. In short, this is a Eugene O'Neill family drama presented as a Lifetime Original Movie.

Rinse, Repeat
Through August 17
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: