“Rinse, Repeat”- A Review(ish) from a Real Person Who Gets It of a Recovery Play from a Real Person Who Gets It
What happens when we give people space to talk about things that they actually know about?
That’s exactly the question I had from seeing Rinse, Repeat at Signature Theatre. Now, sorry to be writing about this at the tail end of its extended run, but I’ve been a little busy (in intensive outpatient, ironically being treated for, yep, an eating disorder. This play was fairly raw and apropos.) While issues of diet culture, eating disorders, body image, gender bias, and beauty standards aren’t being talked about in performing arts and media spaces nearly enough, this performer, Domenica Feraud, wrote a play to get something on the subject out there, and I am so grateful she did.
Synopsis: Rinse, Repeat is the story of Rachel, a 21-year-old woman, and her trial weekend home from residential eating disorder treatment. The stressful environment that she is coming back to, including her controlling parents and insensitive little brother, creates further hurdles towards recovery.
Domenica Feraud, the star/playwright/force behind this piece is incredibly vulnerable and brave for sharing this piece of theatre. I say this not because of the fact that she has a disorder and has chosen to share a story about disordered eating/eating disorders (some of the work is influenced by hers) with us, but for her ability to get out there and write a play in the face of so much stigma and silence on this issue that, as she mentions in her playwright’s note in the program, at least 30 million people struggle with in the US alone, not to mention many more worldwide, of all races, classes, religions, genders, ability statuses, ages, and sexual orientations.
Yet the image we nearly always see is of a sad young cis white woman on a bathroom floor. Curiously enough, the set is exclusively built around a kitchen, and things are added on to the kitchen to create other rooms, already subverting the trope. Feraud and the character of Rachel are both Ecuadorian, and Rachel and her mother, Joan, speak Spanish and Spanglish at varying moments in the play, another disruption from the stereotypical narrative of eating disorders. I am so grateful to see experiences that are not only outside my own, but that are also outside what I’ve seen time and time again.
I am fond of complex, dysfunctional family drama. I love plays that don’t center on a straight love story (or even a love story at all.) I’m a sucker for integrating more than one medium into a work of theatre (there’s poetry!). I enjoy plays that meditate on shame and fear and when emotions get the better of us. I especially cherish honesty and levity in the face of darkness. All of these were present, and they all worked in service of the plot.
Feraud understood how to tackle the issues in a clear, specific, descriptive manner without being so explicit that it would be trauma porn, glorifying of disorders, or overly triggering to those still suffering/recovering. That’s a line that only people can walk well from experience, and even then, not everyone’s cut out for it. Being gratuitous, alienating people, and going for shock value isn’t hard, nor is it helpful, especially in theatre pieces that touch on such sensitive topics.
In her note and in the play, Feraud predominantly speaks about women with eating disorders, and she spoke to really niche issues that face (read: mainly cis) women specifically, down to picking the name Renley, a clear play on the well-known Renfrew, a residential treatment center that only admits (read: mainly cis) women. This makes sense, as eating disorders are more prevalent/more commonly diagnosed/more commonly treated in women, and talking about women’s struggles with body image and eating disorders are definitely more germane to her experience than the issues facing men and nonbinary people with eating disorders.
Possibly without even realizing it, the eating behaviors of the men in the family onstage also reflect issues facing men and their concerns with their own image. That isn’t her focus, nor should it be, but it didn’t go unnoticed. Tackling it further, I suppose, is up to guys like me and people from any other experience that goes underrepresented. Much like Feraud didn’t wait around for this story to get written, we shouldn’t either. That was one of my big takeaways, besides that placing blame on anything for a disorder is complicated, and that disorders and intergenerational trauma (among other things) really play off each other.
I want more art that heals. I want more art that calls for healing. I want more art that comes from a place of truth rather than art that capitalizes on the suffering of other people.
I wish Domenica Feraud and this play in particular much luck going forward.
So, back to the original question. What happens when we give people space to talk about things that they actually know about?
They grow, and we all grow.