Crashed Diet!

The folks over at North Valley Playhouse had better hope that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation doesn't get wind of the offensive gay stereotypes they're promoting in their new, original, so-mean-you-won't believe-it show, Diet! The Musical! For that matter, they'd better hope that anyone with half a brain who's ever tried to shed a few pounds doesn't stumble on this little monstrosity because, while Diet! does not have the ability to entertain, it does posses the power to shock an audience with its unapologetic stupidity.

I was willing to give local husband-and-wife playwrights Kenneth and Susan LaFave the benefit of the doubt, and spent all of Act One looking for something to like in a show that tells us that fat people are okay so long as they can overlook the fact that they're losers because they're overweight. I gave up my campaign early in Act Two when there appeared a character so odious, so repulsively hateful in its depiction of homosexuals, that all bets were off. I was done looking for the silver lining in this pretentious pile of offal and ready to call it what it truly is: crap.

I should have seen it coming. Diet! opens with a song that's sung entirely offstage, leaving its audience to stare at an empty set while a trio of thin, reedy voices go looking for harmony with lyrics like, "I love food/It's so delicious/Food, food, food/It fulfills my wishes." I ended up wishing that the stage had remained bare when Freddie, the most repulsive gay stereotype to mince across a stage in decades, appeared. Dressed in iridescent pink ladies' slacks and a glittery blouse with six inches of lace at the cuffs, Mark Shannon as Freddie pranced his way through a profoundly vile impersonation of what people used to think of as a typical homosexual, all limp wrists and lispy, eye-rolling huffiness. It was a display so disgraceful that I can't tell you what Shannon sang about, although I do recall that it was off-key and performed as if he were an Eric Blore impersonator determined to set the gay rights movement back 50 years.

(And please, spare me your letters about how making fun of fags is okay because you know/are/have slept with a gay person who finds this sort of hate-mongering amusing. It's not, and I'd be just as offended if Freddie were an African-American character who turned up onstage eating a slice of watermelon and calling for his Mammy — and you should be, too.)

What comes before or after this monstrous sequence is less offensive, although no more compassionate. If I didn't expect to find fag-bashing in the LaFaves' little brainchild, I did think I might see a show that offered a vision of women with weight issues as something other than needy, bitter, and food-obsessed. This small-mindedness is forwarded in songs that compare men to chocolate bars ("Who Needs a Man When a Gal's Got Chocolate?"); celebrate chubby-chasing ("Pleasingly Plump"); and another ("Stick To It") in which one big girl sings lovingly to a pastry while another pleads with her boyfriend (who's left her for someone thin) to return her phone calls. In between, there are unfunny scenes in which we're told that fat women are beautiful inside but don't stand a chance of anyone discovering that inner beauty because no one can get past their piggishness to see what's inside.

Shortly after the Freddie sequence, the LaFaves run out of clever clichés and resort to scenes like the one in which a couple romance each other by cramming each other's mouths with pizza and ice cream, and another in which a chubby-chaser collapses after an eating binge and winds up in the hospital, because people who eat entire cheese pizzas for dinner always end up with angioplasties.

North Valley Playhouse is threatening to keep this mean-spirited dreck on its schedule through May 5, but I'm recommending that you stay home and watch TV rather than waste your hard-earned dollars on a tuneless, malevolent musical. To do anything else is to support not only bad theater, but intolerance as well.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela