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A CurtainUp Review
By Barbara K. Mehlman
The theatre is dark and African music is playing. As the lights come up, a youthful-looking, middle-aged woman -- stark naked except for silver bracelets on each arm -- is standing on the stage, having assumed a pose like a piece of sculpture. She begins talking about how important comfort has become to her, so she only assumes poses that don't hurt. Sometimes, she changes her poses every minute or so because she gets restless or bored. "Makes them learn to draw faster," Jodie tells us, and we understand she is modeling for art students. The place is London and the date is April 29, 1994, three days after the first free elections in South Africa. Jodie's patter is interesting, and her demeanor friendly, yet you are, at first, almost totally distracted by her body. This is not Nicole Kidman in Blue Room. This is Aviva Jane Carlin, in the role of Jodie, and she's fat. Her belly is flabby, and hangs with an apron above her pubic area; her breasts are average-sized but pendulous; and her thighs and rump are dimpled with cellulite. Yet she is thoroughly comfortable in her nakedness.
Moving from pose to pose, Jodie has a conversation with us, the audience, and though she is the only one who ever speaks in this one-woman show it feels like a conversation all the same. Jodie makes light and witty observations about the art students. She remarks on the one whose "hair defies gravity," and tells us about another who draws her thin to make her feel better. There's also a man who refuses to sketch her because he doesn't like the angle; and that talent and class attendance seem to be totally unrelated.
> Eventually, she gets to the subject of fat, and Jodie ponders how a Martian might react if he gazed upon her nudity and jiggly thighs. "We aren't our bodies," her mother has wisely told her, "we just live in them." And fortunately for Jodie, she accepted that advice, giving her a freedom that few women in America know.
p> For barely 75 minutes, Jodie continues, talking about growing up in South Africa during apartheid, how she developed her large vocabulary, her big, courageous mother, and the day the Afrikaans came to arrest Golden, her servant, and take him to jail. Poignantly she relates how her mother used her large bulk to protect Jane and Toojie, Golden's wife and daughter, and get them to a safe haven. And then Golden returns, bruised and beaten, but on 26 April, 1994, Golden voted. "If apartheid could come down," Jodie wants to know, "why can't our attitudes toward fat?"
The setting for Jodie's conversation is spare, with only some dull-colored geometric shapes, a chair and a striped, makeshift sarong to give the artist's studio verisimilitude. We watch only Jodie in all her smooth pinkness. And no matter how far afield she wanders, she always comes back to fat and apartheid. But it is her observations on how we feel about our bodies that" are most personal for us. When Aviva first comes out on stage, it is shocking. "How could she! But as the show progresses, and Jodie's wisdom, warmth and spirit embrace the audience, she is no longer this pleasant-looking woman with ugly fat, but someone so lovable and genuine, she is actually, well, beautiful.