You may remember Bridget McCarthy from my (depressingly popular–I wish this didn’t resonate with everyone) post about Juliet being played by somebody whose body type is not… sylphish?

She’s developing a one-woman show, called Fat Juliet, which she says was catalyzed by our work together on her Juliet audition monologue. That story isn’t in the show, but that experience helped her start seeing the thread that tied together a lot of the stories she had been telling in stand-up shows–basically, her relationship with how people see her. So she pieced together several of those stories and began to explore some of their deeper emotional content. It’s now more in the category of one-woman play than it is stand-up, although that line is blurry. She’s going to be performing it at the Atlanta AppCo Alumni Series showcase on May 11 and 12, in Atlanta. If you’re in the area, please, do yourself a favor and go see it (but be forewarned, it is not a family show).

This weekend, Bridget had a designer run of the show, with an invited audience of about a dozen. I felt so lucky to get to be there. The show is brilliant.

It covers a lot of serious material–eating disorders, Christian purity culture, and her mother’s death. But it is so funny. I’ve always said that the best way to make a Shakespearean tragedy work is to fully invest in the funny parts, because they heighten both the depth of the tragedy and the audience’s emotional connection to it. I think that’s what Bridget is doing in this show, and it’s perfect.

Fat Juliet, image by Mollie Murk

Bridget is honest and raw and present. She uses her body brilliantly and makes strong choices. The stories she shares are brave. She interweaves them with pieces of Shakespeare’s text, using his verse to carry her emotions when her own words are inadequate. In one passage, where she talked about how challenging life was after her mom died, when she was a teenager, and was suddenly responsible for keeping the water on and trying to protect her younger sister, while also being a great student, she gave Hamlet’s “O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt” monologue. I have never seen that monologue delivered in that way before, and I wish I could see Bridget perform it untethered from the context of her show to see if it is still as stunning. It felt true in a way that I have not ever seen it before. I can think of at least three truly excellent Hamlets that I’ve seen; I’m not saying this because I haven’t seen great performances of Hamlet. I just haven’t seen the text performed with the truth Bridget brought to it. The framing of Fat Juliet gave that monologue dimensions that I haven’t seen in the context of its own play. Bridget has just been talking about having an eating disorder and wanting to take up as little space as possible, and then she uses Hamlet’s words to say that she wants her body to melt and become a dew. I got the feeling that she absolutely meant it. The same when Hamlet contemplates suicide; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Hamlet who I thought really would actually seriously kill himself. I’ve always seen it performed with some remove, a bit philosophizing about what death is and the moral implications of inviting it. When Bridget performed that monologue in the context of her feeling of complete exhaustion at trying to maintain her impossible life, I felt her longing for release from the pain of this world. I suddenly thought I am so grateful that Bridget survived long enough for me to meet her–because she almost didn’t.

Afterward, I told her she should be using that monologue for auditions. She said, “I never have auditioned with that–you think so?”

I told her, “You made me want to see that whole play, and I don’t even like Hamlet. That is exactly what you want someone to feel when you’re auditioning for them.”

One complicating factor about this performance was that everyone in the room was there because we love Bridget. The impact that the show had on us was magnified by our love for her. We were weeping in anger and sadness that these things had happened to our beautiful friend. I was doing okay until the Hamlet monologue and then I completely lost it. I think that the show would still be excellent if I were a stranger to Bridget, but I probably wouldn’t have ugly cried over it if I didn’t know and love her. Everyone in the audience was pouring out our love and pain in waves of emotions. The emotional texture of the room felt like a heavy blanket–thank goodness it was a funny show, we got breaths of air regularly. I couldn’t have survived the hour without those. I think our response complicated performance for Bridget as well–we created something of an emotional feedback loop with her. In an audience where more people are strangers to her, I suspect the piece will be just the right level of sad and angry-making.

After the performance, we sat in a circle and Bridget asked for feedback and notes. Mostly, everyone just thanked her for this incredible piece. People named a few moments that were confusing or uncomfortable in the wrong way, and she asked follow-up questions that helped her clarify a direction. She had invited some incredibly smart and perceptive people; I felt honored to be part of that circle.

I was very impressed with Lindsay Bytof, who is directing the piece. I may have this wrong, but my understanding is that the performance series just paired her with Bridget; they didn’t know each other even a few weeks ago. Lindsay clearly understands Bridget and what she is trying to do. The comments she offered were clear and precise, while leaving space for Bridget to solve her own problems. Directing a one-woman show written by that actor and based on her own life must be an emotionally and technically complex task, and Lindsay is handling it brilliantly. I’m always a little too protective of actors I love working with; I get irrationally furious if they have a director who isn’t respecting their work. Seeing Bridget working with a wonderful director who is obviously enhancing and enabling her work made my soul so happy.

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