1 min


Food in desperate times

Credit: Xtra files

In her new one-woman show, Filler Up, performer and writer Deb Filler mines some rich and terrifying issues: food, body image, family and sexuality. Daughter of a baker, a Holocaust survivor who hated waste, and a put-upon mother who struggled with her weight, Filler recounts how she grew up obsessed with food and despising her own body.

Raised in New Zealand, she dreams of being an actress as she sneaks buttered slices of her father’s famous challah bread and endures her family’s entreaties to lose weight – they even trick her once into going to a fat camp. She winds up performing in lesbian punk cabarets and eventually she finds herself in Manhattan, studying acting, waiting tables and getting cast in roles like “pudgy earthquake victim.”

Her Lesbian Avenger girlfriend convinces her for a while that her voluptuous body is beautiful, but it’s not until a family tragedy takes Filler back home to New Zealand that she begins to learn to love herself.

Filler is a pleasure to watch and a brilliant storyteller and mimic, bringing 27 characters vividly to life with only gestures and accents. In addition to her mother and father, there’s her over-bearing, thick-legged grandmother who forces food on anyone in sight; Aunt Vippy, who dispenses take-out food and advice in her husky Long Island accent; a bevy of ex-lovers; a twitchy therapist and a spot-on depiction of an acting coach. Accompanying herself on the guitar, Filler sings throughout the show, mostly puns on standards, and at one powerful moment, a moving Yiddish song.

Yet, given the richness of the material, the play often doesn’t dig as deep as it could. One of the play’s great images and devices, a loaf of challah that Filler bakes onstage during the show, could have been used much more effectively, for instance. But where she hits the emotional notes, Filler is terrific, like the haunting story she tells about her starving father baking bread with Russian soldiers and German POWs after the concentration camps have been liberated.

Or especially, a moment at the very end so lovely and right that it shouldn’t be given away. Suffice it to say that the big, beautiful and deliciously funny Deb Filler shines in any kind of light.

Filler Up continues at Artword Theatre (75 Portland Ave) until Sun, Oct 13; call (416) 872-1212.