- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

With bubbly honesty, Deb Filler examines her obsessive relationship with food and eating in “Filler Up!” All the while she’s singing and performing, Miss Filler prepares and bakes a challah from her father’s recipe that looks and smells delicious. A more striking metaphor for our feelings about food cannot be found.

Miss Filler seems to have made peace with this dichotomy between having an appreciation for good food and morbid shame about eating. She exudes effortless charm in her one-woman show, and is at ease in her “right-sized” body that appears healthy and fit, but is not supermodel skinny.

Our perceptions of “thin” versus “fat” have gotten so skewed that Miss Filler, a woman with Junoesque hips and thighs, has possessed a warped body image that has made her feel like a sideshow freak. And she is the norm rather than the exception — how many people today can say they were raised in a body-positive environment? These days, food is not something that nourishes you or something to be enjoyed but often is to be reviled.

We hate ourselves for wanting to eat, hate what food does to us (makes us fat), hate the fact that we have to eat in the first place. Food has become so demonized in modern society that its importance has become outsized — we think about food too much, eat too much, loathe our bodies to an absurd degree.

The self-hatred and ambivalence began early for Miss Filler, daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, during her childhood in New Zealand. Her beloved dad ran a bakery and brought home pastries and fragrant loaves of challah every day. Hating to waste food, but hating the effect the baked goods had on his daughter and wife, dad’s attitude perfectly summed up the complicated relationships we have with eating.

With zest, and — dare shall we say it? — appetite, Miss Filler chronicles her lifelong struggle with weight and food and feeling like a third-class citizen because her clothing size is not in the single digits.

Anyone whose mother put them on their first diet as a toddler or sent them to fat camp, or had to endure the communal dressing rooms at Loehmann’s will surely relate to Miss Filler’s ruefully comic skirmishes in the body wars.

Miss Filler portrays 27 characters, including the husky-voiced Aunt Vippy, who believes everything in the world can be solved by superb Chinese takeout and a little shopping; a perky chef at a diet spa who makes potato salad out of egg whites and three-cheese lasagna without the cheese; and her mother, a zaftig woman of deep love and soignee style who battles her own feelings of inadequacy and lack of respect because of her size.

“Filler Up!” is effervescent with keenly observed vignettes about fat and food, yet the show’s most poignant passage deals with Miss Filler’s tangled emotions involving her father — who was profoundly disappointed to have both an overweight child and wife. For all his fat phobia, he was a good man, and Miss Filler’s feelings slip away as she attends to the business of loving and caring for him as he perished from cancer.

What it all comes down to is, what a waste — that a talented, vital person like Miss Filler would have to feel ashamed and inadequate for most of her life because she did not fit some largely unattainable ideal of what a woman should weigh. That all the considerable energy we waste on hating ourselves could not be expended more usefully and compassionately.

“Filler Up!” urges us, no matter what our size, to think big and dream big — and that food is food and we need to get over it. But then there’s the challah — it is golden and puffy and perfect. Go ahead, have a piece … and don’t forget the butter.

***

WHAT: “Filler Up!” by Deb Filler

WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through March 7.

TICKETS: $32 to $38

PHONE: 703/548-9044

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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