The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders states that in the U.S. 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders. Though never officially diagnosed, Bitsy Betsy happened to fall into those statistics when she was a sophomore in college. In her debut play, “Bare Bones,” presented by Up All Night Productions this weekend at TheatreNOW, the first-time playwright explores the experience as transcribed from her real-life diary.
“In a way, writing this show was therapeutic,” Betsy says, “a way to cope with and aid in the recovery from that period of my life—not to say that I don’t still struggle with eating now. However, in addition to writing from my own experiences, I was inspired to write when I learned that so many other girls, at some point or another, suffer from disordered eating.”
Betsy took main points from her diary and fleshed out the play with fiction of what might have happened. She exaggerated scenarios of her own instances in the throes of overcoming disordered eating. “I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, thus why I say that I suffer from disordered eating, ,” Betsy says. “It was very similar to anorexia nervosa . . . As an avid journaler, I find release through writing.”
Her show brings to light the psychological effects of being obsessed with being thin. Not only does it torment the sufferer but also those surrounding her. “I wanted to bring this issue of self-mutilation to the front of people’s minds because it is so common,” Betsy says. “Yet, we so often celebrate extreme dieting and weight loss to attain an ideal body image.”
The play follows Lesly (Liz Bernardo), Corbin (Matt Taylor), Ashlyn (Olivia Arokiasamy), Dagon (Matt Carter), and Tom (Nick Reed), a group of friends, family members and roommates going through Lesley’s tumultuous time. On some level, Betsy sees Corbin as much a protagonist as Lesley. He is the one narrating the show, reading from Lesley’s diary and working toward helping her rather than idly sitting back and doing nothing.
“Corbin is literally the world’s best friend and at the path of healing,” Betsy says. “His ultimate care and love truly inspires me because that’s what I’d love to be for others.”
Betsy chose Naomi Barbee—who’s currently double-majoring in theatre performance and education of young children at UNCW—to direct. Though new to the director’s chair and making her debut to Wilmington audiences, Barbee seemingly understands the equilibrium in performances to draw out the play’s powerful message. “I personally feel [it] is very relevant to modern society,” she says. “This play offers insight on a new perspective that people in our society may never have considered.”
First and foremost, love centers the show—not only in the obvious paradigm of loving oneself but of showing compassion for others working through extreme hardships. The sensitive nature of the drama drives a lot of the dialog, which is practially scribed like poetry.
“[Conversations] seem to be recorded after-the-fact, due to the diary construct,” Betsy explains. “As a result, both Lesley and Corbin are both poetic—not only in their language, but also in their actions. . . . It can be difficult to balance how characters share lines and how to make lines seem natura; thus, the diary framework structure that allows for slightly skewed and biased language.”
“Liz embodies the role [of Lesley] flawlessly and connects with the character in a way that no one else could,” Barbee tells. “Her portrayal is pure and genuine. Matt knows how to portray [Corbin’s] softer side while still managing to make every female in the room swoon.”
All characters remain inspirational, from Ashlyn’s buoyant soul, who knows how to counteract intense situations, to Dagon’s daring courage, to Tom’s level of intensity. “I did not feel [the emotion] in [Tom] until I saw [Nick Reed bring it] onstage,” Barbee explains. “His stage presence is captivating.”
Reed’s sibling rivalry scene with Lesley stands out as a favorite scene for Betsy. It comes to a head upon the illumination of what’s happening with Lesley. “I love the raw and real reactions that Tom has to his sister’s revelation,” she says.
Betsy also has written the typical BFF scene between females, revolving around the “You’re so pretty—No, you’re prettier!” discussion many endure. “In this scene, we get to see just how much an argument like that can strike someone’s core and hurt them,” the playwright notes. “It’s a twist on something that we really don’t think anything of as a society, but that can really have a huge affect on someone.”
Staged with only a dining table and four chairs, audiences are mandated to suspend disbelief for imaginary props. Assistant director Arianna Tysinger worked with actors on miming techniques to see through the staging. Producer Zeb Mims is overseeing the behind-the-scenes needs, including costumers and lighting, to ensure the driving point stays focused on the acting.
“The characters are dressed in all black, and the lighting colors establish the mood for each scene,” Barbee tells. “Some scenes have the characters in shadows, which create a dream-like effect.”
A full believer in turning her words over to a team of people she trusts, Betsy—who has written only one other play as part of Browncoat Pub and Theatre’s “Dialogues of Strange Bedfellows”—loves what she’s seeing thus far. “The actors are finding so many amazing moments in the script and ways to bring the words to life that I could never have dreamt,” she says.
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St.
October 24-25, 10 p.m.
Tickets: $3 at the door