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.