The paradox of being addicted to something you need to survive is at the crux of Rhonda Khan’s intrepid solo show, FOOD, performed as a part of the United Solo Festival. With an unconventional show time at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, the pulse of the fully committed audience is palpable. The show time is inconvenient due to the exigencies of the largest solo festival in the world, but seats are full and the house is ready for a good time.
Khan takes the stage with the grace and humor of an old timer belying her youthful appearance. She speaks of food being her best friend—the kind that you comforts you by being willing to be consumed wholly by your grief and animosity, willingly offering itself to a mouth wide open in sorrow. A screen with photos of Khan at varying stages of weight gain and loss gives the story visual confirmation. The images become a lifeline between Khan and her audience. We are unable to escape the reality. Each time our mind wanders seeking an escape from the harrowing story, an image pulls us back. A photo of a Hagen Daaz pint unsuccessfully hidden by her father goes up as she enacts her fear of secret eating being discovered. NYC pizza slices and a dish of homemade peach cobbler also make appearances.
And there’s humor too. When Khan discovers the ace to her vice, Magnesium citrate, a laxative that wipes the intestines clean with just a few sips, the screen flashes with a WARNING sign as she rushes to the toilet after a binge. Khan later learns that taking laxatives is another form of bulimia. The moment of realization is poignant, but Khan doesn’t slip into melodrama. She is relentlessly buoyant.
Khan’s buoyance is key for the large portion of the audience that grew up in the 90s with its abundance of after school specials about eating disorders. All too familiar with pedantic tales of young white suburban girls binging and purging, this portion of the audience is likely to tune out the usual story parts: Girl wants to be beautiful; girl possesses morbid fear of being fat; girl stops eating or starts secretly eating copious amounts of food that she violently throws up; and finally, girl loses massive amount of weight and looks like the skeleton from Tales from the Crypt. It’s shocking. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s more prevalent than we think. It becomes so overdone that we—the fortunate healthy—become numb to the story.
But Khan’s performance bypasses our usual apathy. We recall that even we, whose brains have not been taken over by the urge to starve ourselves or binge and purge pizza, ice cream, cookies, and cupcakes, are all somehow affected. Even if we choose to live in a deliberate bubble shielding ourselves from the barrage of cultural images of beauty, we are still somehow touched by the cultural desire to be thin. We notice that 80% of women on screen are more than thin, but are bona fide skinny. We notice that eating healthy doesn’t come as easy for people of color, not because they don’t care to live long or lead healthy lives, but because many healthy options are out of their price range. We notice that even though we’re active and appreciate different body types, there is an insidious voice urging us to not be fat. And those are the healthy among us.
Khan is triumphant. She exudes the breath of resilience. Not because she is “cured” of the food addiction whose remnants she may feel for the rest of her life, but because she is committed to live with awareness. She exercises, but opts not to bust her chops with negative self loathing. She eats with intuition and avoids diets because they get her in her head and make her expect results.
It’s not about results. An addiction to something you need to survive isn’t exactly the kind of thing you get “results” for. You learn to live with the cards you’ve been dealt. This is a revolutionary idea in a society hell bent on hard results.
In FOOD, tour de force performer and writer, Rhonda Khan, stuffs her face, works out, stuffs her face some more, gets hooked on laxatives, goes through a revolving door of therapists and therapies, and still manages to come out on top. From the top, she delivers laughter, inspiration, and an unforgettable performance that will make you take a second look at addiction and maybe even your own relationship with food.
FOOD – by Rhonda Khan; Directed by Taylor Reynolds
Multimedia Design by Zubaer Khan; Sound Projections Operation by Alex Evans; Publicity by Sherilyn Ferdinand; Additional Design by Rigel Lastrella