Pidge Meade details her personal transformation in the autobiographical solo show 40 Pounds in 12 Weeks at The Marsh Studio Theatre in San Francisco. Photo by David Allen
They say you should never ask a lady about her weight. Well, Pidge Meade is a lady who freely talks about her weight – in fact she’s written an entire solo show about it.
40 Pounds in 12 Weeks: A Love Story, now at The Marsh in San Francisco, is Meade’s intimate, not to mention funny, moving and generally marvelous, account of being a formerly fat lady. One of her recurring characters is a carnival barker who keeps directing our attention to the exhibit of the formerly fat lady trying to navigate her way through difficult life situations such as basking in (too much?) attention at 20-year college reunion or going the metaphysical, from-the-inside-out route toward weight loss.
The carnival barker represents the show’s snarky side because Meade herself is as sweet and likable person as you’ll ever see on stage. Oh, she’ll curse from time to time or show a flash anger, but she’s exactly the kind of amiable person you’d like to spend 70 minutes with. The audience, as audiences do, remains mostly silent throughout her show, yet it somehow feels like a conversation.
Developed with and directed by Charlie Varon, himself a master of the solo show, 40 Pounds tells the story of Meade’s ride on the weight roller coaster. When she went off to college, she immediately gained 40 pounds, much to the dismay of her father, an Olympics-level gymnastic coach. His tough love approach to his daughter’s weight gain was to say that if the weight she gained her freshman year wasn’t gone by the end of summer, she wouldn’t be going back to school at all. Thus began the summer of hell.
More than that, it was the beginning of losing, gaining, losing and gaining more. At her heaviest, about six years ago, Meade was carrying nearly 200 pounds on her slight five-foot frame. She was 198 1/2 pounds, or as she puts it, “almost busting the deuce.”
Meade frames her story with the college reunion, where old friends are astonished to see her so slim and trim. One friend in particular, the still-smiling sorority gal Susie, is insistent about discovering Meade’s secret to weight loss. Was it a juice fast? Well, one was certainly attempted. Was it South Beach? Atkins? Binge and purge? It seems there’s little in the world of weight loss that Meade hadn’t tried.
But the whole point of her show is that there’s no easy answer to weight loss. It’s a deeply personal, highly individual issue that is intimately connected to family issues, relationships and emotional well being.
At the heart of this tale is Meade’s relationship with her father. In those key scenes when she plays her father, the show takes on an utterly compelling dramatic tone. “Break out the tissues, I’ve got daddy issues,” she sings at one point. On the drive back from college, Meade’s dad tells her she’ll never achieve her potential if she’s fat. In the midst of her arduous summer of “weight loss or else,” Meade visits her dad while he’s working with his gymnasts. Chiding her publically, he says, “What do you do with an ass like that?” You feel Meade’s pain so acutely at that moment you want to crawl under you chair.
And what does Meade do with an ass like that? She creates an extraordinary show that has the courage to talk about weight in a way that has the power to change the way you perceive obesity. We’re at a pivotal moment in this country when it comes to childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it the focus of her work in the White House (no matter what Sarah Palin has to say about imposing socialist controls on our kids), and as Meade points out, with 10 million obese children in this country, we risk creating “an entire generation of ginormity.”
Meade gets so honest that she even admits to missing being overweight because it was easier to tell the good people from the bad based on how they react to her. Ouch. That smarts. But Meade isn’t trying to make us feel guilty or make us want to go hug a fat person. She wants to illuminate her own experience – which is ongoing – of personal transformation. When the pain not doing anything became greater than the pain of change, she took action. We can all relate to that, and that’s why 40 Pounds in 12 Weeks is so successful. We’re all part of her story.
I interviewed Pidge Meade for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Pidge Meade’s 40 Pounds In 12 Weeks continues an extended run through April 30 at The Marsh Studio Theater, 1074 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org for information.