At first glance, GUTS, a new one-woman show currently running five nights a week through November 20 at The 9th Space in the East Village, appears to be of interest only to a particular audience: women. Upon closer inspection, however, GUTS isn’t as one-dimensional as it may initially appear to be. Intentionally or not, the emotional and spiritual journey experienced by the main character (based on the life of Liat Ron, the writer and star of the play) will resonate not only with women of all ages and denominations, but even with men who may be empathetic to the difficulties of living in an increasingly shallow and demanding society.
After living on her own in the Big Apple, Hellthy, an Israeli-born twentysomething, has just moved back to her homeland in an effort to distance herself from an emotionally wrenching relationship. Living again with her mother and father, she simultaneously yearns for their care and affection, but pushes them and their overbearing parenting away. A belly dancer and instructor, Hellthy earns a living inspiring women, but secretly struggles to get out of bed every morning and battles an eating disorder spawned from a warped self-image of her own body.
This is the first play written by Ron, but by no means does her inexperience hinder her ability. Ron tackles subjects like body dysmorphia and eating disorders in a humorous but serious manner. She manages to make the audience feel for Hellthy, and you don’t have to have personal experience with either condition or even be a woman to understand how difficult it can be for a young person in today’s society to deal with the pressure of looking good, especially when it relates to their livelihood. You don’t have to be a woman to recognize how our society can cause people to develop an unhealthy and unrealistic obsession with their own body. Although it doesn’t seem to be an aim of Ron’s, the fact that Hellthy undergoes a sort of second adolescence is a topic that a lot of twenty-somethings can relate to, also, as economic realities force many to return to the nest after school or an initial stab at independence.
There were, however, a couple of spots where the writing could have been a bit stronger, particularly when it comes to the audience’s ability to understand the issues with Hellthy’s boyfriend. It isn’t exactly clear just what the problem with him is, or why Hellthy is so adamant about getting away from him. Likewise, a lengthy silent workout scene in the middle of the play goes on a bit too long and doesn’t really accomplish much in the way of driving the plot, although the awkward silence in a later taciturn scene successfully brings the audience into the self-made prison sentence one serves when under the grueling dominion of an unhealthy obsession.
The Ninth Space is a small, no-frills theater, but director Shoshana Currier and her crew have done a nice job using a minimalist set, props, and some video footage to help buttress Ron’s challenging solo performance. The video, often playing as Ron performs, helps address issues and express ideas that Ron may not have been able to include in the performance itself. Some recorded audio meant to depict Ron’s mother is the source for much of the show’s funniest moments.
Writing and performing in GUTS must be something of a challenge for Ron, as she is forced to divulge some very personal details of her life (even if some of them have been exaggerated for the good of the play), but it is a challenge that she does a pretty good job of overcoming. If you want to experience one person’s journey in dealing with emotional issues that many of us can relate to in one way or another, then GUTS is a show that is worth seeing.