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Thomas Ward's darkly comic and mostly satisfying new play focuses on an obese man trying to change his life. logo
John G. Preston and Brent Bateman in Binge
(© Corey Shipler)
Thomas Ward's darkly comic and mostly satisfying new one-act play, Binge, being presented by the Slant Theatre Project at the Drilling Company, seemingly focuses on an unusual subject: Doug (Brent Bateman), an obese customer service rep in his early thirties, decides to have gastric bypass surgery to improve his "quality of life." But the work is ultimately less about being fat, and more about what people want to be as opposed to who they really are.

The play opens with a long scene with Doug and his doctor (John G. Preston), spliced with other scenes at his workplace with his cubicle buddy, Chris (David Lee Nelson), and at home where he strikes up a conversation with the new pizza delivery girl, Beth (Therese Barbato), whom he develops a crush on. These short vignettes provide a quick snapshot of his life with tightly constructed dialogue that's often simultaneously funny and unsettling.

For example, when Beth, a pretty girl without a good sense of boundaries, sees Doug in a bookstore reading Self-Esteem for Dummies, she bluntly asks him to "Guess how many abortions I've had?" He struggles and stammers before reluctantly saying two. Of course, the answer is zero, and she's just messing with him. They go back and forth for a little while and the flirtation builds nicely, especially since Barbato exudes a detached cool tinged with loneliness and insecurity that gels well with Bateman's "nice guy" act.

The action moves smoothly between several locations thanks to Jonathan Wentz's economical set, which carves out distinctive areas on the tiny Drilling Company stage. And director Adam Knight has made some striking -- and smart -- choices. For example, when the lights go up on the doctor's office, Doug and Dr. Wilson are both facing the audience, establishing the disconnect between the two while providing us with an intimate glimpse into Doug's life as he uncomfortably fidgets in a chair that wasn't made for him.

To Ward's credit, the development of his characters is never stunted or eclipsed by the issue of obesity. Moreover, there are no long diatribes espousing any particular view on the subject. The larger point of Binge is that all four characters are struggling with their demons: The doctor is trying to quit smoking; Doug's co-worker is trying (and failing) to be less of a douche; and Beth writes songs -- but doesn't let anyone hear them.

There's a Neil LaBute-like twist at the end that proves to be one those moments where everything kind of clicks into place. And while there's a lot that we never find out about the characters that we might want to know, we learn enough about them through their interactions with each other.

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