The Bus Stop Theatre continues its new season of its Re-Fringed event with Taylor Olson‘s outstanding one man show Heavy. Over the course of an hour, Olson takes the audience on a powerful, introspective journey whereby his autobiographical story entailing drastic weight loss and weight gain is unfolded in vivid and unforgettable detail.
Taking us back in time, Olson depicts a battle with his self-image that has been present within himself since childhood. Furthermore Heavy describes how this anger, guilt, and sadness manifested itself in the ugliest and most tragic of ways; eating disorders, depression, bodily harm, and self-shaming— it all comes centre stage. Even as Olson removes more and more physical weight from his body, the audience still feels every ounce of the pressure. The result is gut-wrenching; it’s hard watching him self-destruct under a deadly regimen of starvation and endless exercise only to punish and abuse himself for taking a single bite from a potato chip. Olson’s choice to wear baggy sweatshirts in the summer time verges on torturous, and his stretch-marks only serve as more scars to bear.
Likewise, the quest to become a “superhero dad” following the birth of his daughter, Hope, is equally hard to watch. Rather than impressive and inspiring, his manic and relentless quest to lose a hundred pounds to become “healthy” is a hollow and meaningless pursuit when the self-acceptance and resolution he so desperately craves fails to materialize. This theme was fascinating to both watch and ponder; Olson’s usage of social media cheering on his weight loss highlights the superficial sense of reward and achievement he toiled so long for, prompting the question, what does it matter if everyone else likes you, when you still cannot love yourself? Olson berates and abuses himself for failing to inspire Hope, thus continuing his downward spiral.
Well-directed by Sansom Marchand, Heavy cuts to the core of several ignored and misunderstood issues that we may not have noticed before. Although Olson jumps back and forth in his timeline, adding a slight sense of disjointedness to the flow of the show, it is an issue that can easily be fixed by further workshopping. The utilization of his daughter to ground his story endows Heavy with purpose; it single-handedly brings layers of warmth to Olson’s work and also steers his story to a full and satisfying finale.
In the end, it is in its moments of scrutiny that Heavy excels. Olson deftly turns the spotlight onto popular social perspective and asks with true sincerity, “What is beautiful?” “What is healthy?” It is a concept seen before, but due to Olson’s powerhouse performance it never comes across as a retread. A lot of important questions get raised here, granting plenty of opportunities for self-examination. There is tremendous restraint found in this work and although Olson has a lot of understandable anger for the past, Heavy never devolves into rant territory. Survivors of any war carry resentment and anger; they are toxins, hindering the critical need for acceptance; but through self-discovery and self-love can one set out on the road to recovery. Olson seems well on his way.