Gloucester Clam Review: Phoebe Potts’ Too Fat for China


I know we don’t typically do local reviews here, but hear me out on this one. It’s worth changing the rules for.

I was recently lucky enough to snag a ticket the world premier of Phoebe Potts’ one-woman show, Too Fat for China. A poignant and deeply funny look at the difficult road of adoption after infertility, the show just finished up its limited 2-week run at the Gloucester Stage Company. It debuted on November 23rd, National Adoption Day, and proceeded to sell out the two Saturday shows. It’s not hard to see why it was an instant hit. If you don’t know Phoebe, she’s an amazing storyteller and a genuinely funny woman. She was recently handed the Gloucester Writer’s Center Fish Tales Storyteller-In-Residence baton from our own late, great Jim Dowd. 

Phoebe, who had previously turned her infertility struggles into a brilliant graphic novel called “Good Eggs”, starts her story out by learning who the Mafia was (a close-knit family who would throw you in the East River) while growing up in a pre-Gentrification Brooklyn brownstone. 

She weaves that background story of growing up in the Jewish Faith, her courtship and marriage to her husband Jeff, and the titular issue, her weight gain, into the adoption tale. 

While her fertility doctors explained that her weight wasn’t impacting her ability to conceive, it disqualified her from a Chinese adoption as at 5’3” and 160ish lbs, she would have been at too high a BMI to adopt. 

She explains the judgement involved in adoption -judgement of finances, relationships, medical history, and so many other things we’d rather keep private. And Phoebe admits she’s not immune to judgment of others – including the way they dress, even though she’s aware she “presents as an after-school pottery teacher from the Shire.”

Phoebe’s years-long, winding adoption story, peppered with heartbreaking failure along the way, is compelling and wonderful, as much as it is painful and unfair. All the while, Phoebe must face that every adoption process is rife with racism – from the cost differences in domestic adoption between gender and race, to the nurse in a Cincinnati hospital admonishing a black birth mother in front of her for not loving her baby, to the phenomena of Americans adopting internationally and removing a child from its own country.  She must as come to terms that she comes from great privilege even though she is struggling to get the one thing she wants – a goddamn tiny baby. 

Of course, I’m not one to spoil an ending, but if you’ve ever met Phoebe, you’ve also met her gem of a son, Lemi – so of course, she finally succeeds in adoption. She ends her show with her son’s homecoming, kicking off her shoes and belting out her own version of Etta James’ At Last, while photos of her son as a baby, in a Frankfurt airport, with his exhausted and beaming new parents.

With Phoebe’s storytelling and standup prowess, it’s easy to see why Too Fat for China got a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd. Our only hope is that this sweet and introspective narrative can get the wider showing it deserves.

The Gloucester Clam Presents: TurkeyPalooza 2019!

Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that increased housing prices both statewide and across Cape Ann, coupled with stagnant wages and increasing income inequality, has really put pressure on many of our friends and neighbors here. This year, with a lot of wallets tightening and some at the breaking point, more families have asked the Open Door for help to put food on the table for Thanksgiving. As a result of this increased need, the lovely folks at the Open Door asked us to rally our amazing, snarky community for a great cause- to make sure no family is left out this year. They’re hoping to raise a total of $10k through a group of individual community members who will use their magical powers to raise money.

We want to do our part as a community of helpful nerds and raise $1000 – enough for 32 baskets.

That’s 32 families that don’t have to choose between a Thanksgiving meal and paying their rent on time. That’s about 200 people, give or take, who will enjoy their day with the people they love without the stress involved with budgeting for a Thanksgiving meal.

I previously wrote about the great things the Open Door does.  They serve nearly 1 in 6 residents, most of whom are employed and not making enough. A lot of the people served by the Open Door only use it when necessary, and less than they are allowed by the pantry’s guidelines. Open Door does a lot of heavy lifting in our community, and they’re what I call a “safety trampoline” – they help families bounce back into self-sufficiency as quickly as they can. A “safety net”  is great terminology – it catches those falling through the cracks. But a trampoline is what gets them back where they were before they fell.


boing boing boing

Here, use this as a visual interpetation of my theory.


Here’s a little personal story about what that safety trampoline can mean.

Not even 5 years ago, when I was going through a divorce, my rent was $1500 and my monthly freelance clients averaged $1700. Because I was a freelancer with varying income and had filed taxes with my ex-husband previously, the state turned myself and my two kids down for SNAP benefits, even though we were income-eligible. I was lucky to have some savings, but it was a pretty trying time for us and we barely made it. Thankfully, the Open Door was there of us, and in 2015, I was one of those families getting a Thanksgiving  basket to cook an amazing meal for my boys with leftovers for days. When I went to the Open Door for help, it felt like the community truly cared about us. I was able to instead use that grocery money to cover my rent, to pay my bills, and to worry about a little less that week.

In the time since, I’ve been lucky enough to do better and become a middle-class homeowner (I have a basement fridge! And an icemaker! And a car with BLUETOOTH!).  This happened mostly through chance, and a little through hard work, networking, and austerity budgeting. The safety trampoline worked well for me. But I will forever be thankful to the Open Door for getting us through what I often refer to as the Crap Year. A Crap Year can happen to anyone, regardless of their background, education level, employment status, or family size.

I remember that feeling, that people in this city cared, and I want other families in this city to feel the same way. So here we are, just a dumb blog that swears a lot, asking you for help to accomplish this goal.

Here’s the link to make a donation.

Even a small donation will go a long way to helping us meet our fundraising goal for The Open Door — and we’ll be making the holidays so much brighter for our neighbors in need. Every $30 provides a basket, so whether you give $10 or $100, we’ll be helping local families set their holiday tables.

Thank you!