Size Matters (Review)

Ensemble production is thoughtful, funny and engaging

Cincinnati theatergoers have seen Raymond McAnally before. In 2009, he played dimwitted Ellard Sims in The Foreigner at the Cincinnati Playhouse. A year ago at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati he was in Mrs. Mannerly, a two-actor show about a starchy etiquette teacher. His Playhouse role was typical of parts available to an actor weighing more than 300 pounds: a big, dimwitted guy. Roles like that are the starting point for his current ETC performance in Size Matters, which he wrote, drawing on his experience as a plus-sized performer. As in Mrs. Mannerly he’s the narrator — and everyone else.

The native Tennessean has ties to Cincinnati: He met his wife here when she stage-managed The Foreigner. She returns regularly to work with Cincinnati Opera. So it makes sense that he chose ETC for Size Matters’ world premiere. He plays himself, of course, but also — convincingly and subtly — his dad, his talkative, overweight 10-year-old nephew, numerous thoughtless directors, bullies and others — including his wife.

McAnally is definitely a big guy, and his size has landed him lots of roles onstage and screen, often typecast as fat slobs, socially inept geeks and more. But it’s not so easy to shed those roles in real life. He sees his nephew headed down a similar path, and it’s, well, food for thought.

There's nothing terribly profound in McAnally’s story. But he’s an entertaining performer. Aided by projections and sound (Jimmy Dean’s Country hit, “Big Bad John,” plays before the show), he can showcase his talent and his sense of humor. We learn how he was motivated to trim down for his wedding and how he fell off the wagon later. In his role as an uncle we see him understanding himself better as he answers his nephew’s nonstop questions.

McAnally is not above making fun of himself, including a laugh-out-loud sequence about his honeymoon cruise and a potentially embarrassing contest he and his wife are drawn into. It seems unlikely that Size Matters will be produced elsewhere since it’s McAnally’s personal story. ETC knows what works (76 percent of its subscribers renewed even before knowing the shows to be offered next season), and this simply staged, entertaining piece of theater will make you like a guy you might have otherwise dismissed.

SIZE MATTERS, presented Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, continues through May 25.

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