Marissa Kamin tries to meld two very different worlds together in The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero: broad comedy and cautionary tale. I suppose she intended the comedy to work as a metaphor for the more dramatic underlying plot, but together the two act like oil and vinegar.
Those two aforementioned items are likely never to be consumed by the show's lead character, an unnamed New Jersey high school senior played with incredible understanding by Gillian Jacobs. After her "best friend forever" (Anna Chlumsky) gets into a trendy New York nightclub while she does not, the Jacobs character goes into a tailspin; pressure to be the most popular girl and get into an Ivy League university prove too much for the girl, and soon she turns to the resident Superstar (the shrill Kate Reinders), a beautiful and skinny amalgam of both Greek chorus and tempting snake from the Garden of Eden. She introduces her charge to the world of sex, alcoholism and bulimia, which the impressionable girl takes to be the cure-all for all of her problems.
The result is a schizophrenic affair at the DR2 Theatre that director Ben Rimalower does not know quite how to steer. I chose to view the show as a comedy, with some funny moments and some jokes that feel too old and clichid. Realistically speaking, the issues faced by the two girls are too grown-up to be so melodramatic. Twentysomething women have a hard enough time getting into trendy Manhattan clubs; teenage Jersey girls should be more focused on the peer pressure faced by the girls or boyfriends with whom they go to school, or by skirmishes with their parents. The skeletal plot traces the two girls' senior year, during which time Jacobs' character has practically become a waif and is dating one of the hottest guys in school, virtually supplanting Chlumsky's character in popularity.
However, whatever envy that exists between the two girls doesn't provide much conflict. Instead, Kamin's script, written in conjunction with the online rag sheet Jossip.com, punctuates its silly, inconsequential moments with purportedly true-to-life blog entries, read aloud by Chlumsky. Jacobs' anonymous character, too, is supposed to be based on a real person. Why, then, does this script seem so hollow?
Both Chlumsky and Jacobs are convincing, though Jacobs has far more material to with which to run, and Brian J. Smith and Christopher Sloan are terrific as the swing members of the cast, filling out all necessary male roles, including parents, college tour guides, boyfriends and club bouncers. Reinders' Superstar, however, belongs in a play divorced from what Zero ultimately becomes, which is message-oriented and expository. A play that teaches "Lessons" (with a capital L) does not need to provide a comical guide to binge-drinking and a play-by-play of successful disordered eating. This is not an attack on Reinders, who was a perfect replacement for Glinda in Broadway's Wicked. It is just that these disparate performance styles do not mesh. Other people to be cited for their hard work are set designer Wilson Chin and lighting artist Ben Stanton, who subtly highlights much of what Kamin and Rimalower feel the need to overstate.
Chlumsky has gotten most of the press for Zero, since the erstwhile My Girl star lends a tad more cache. Good for her, I say. But attention must be paid to Ms. Jacobs. Zero may be a half-hearted affair, but scene after scene, the actress gives her all, demonstrating in every scene would might motivate her character to take the fall she does - and of course, demonstrating will full abandon just what those effects look like.