Dressed in black slacks, sweater and tuxedo jacket, Vanessa Marshall struts onto the bare Hudson Avenue Theatre stage, strikes a pose and utters, “You’re looking at a plus size model.” As she proceeds to demonstrate a few model turns, it is obvious the tall, curvaceous but fit-looking former BW (Big Woman) magazine cover girl is anything but overweight. She then launches into the tale of how her recent sojourn into the world of Tae-Bo training has hurt her modeling career. Ironically, she is no longer heavy enough to be a successful plus-size model. Then with a sardonic grin, Marshall begins hoisting a plethora of pads from a small valise and proceeds to stuff them into her clothing. As she continues to amplify her vital statistics she exclaims, “I pad up to a size 18.”
Economically staged by Groundlings’ vet Cynthia Szigeti, Marshall’s brief, one-person show focuses on her lifelong battle with weight and her equally passionate love affair with food. Though she offers no great sociological insights or revelations, Marshall is an appealing, humorous story-teller with a facile gift for characterization.
Marshall is at her best when describing her early life growing up in Los Angeles as the overweight child of two of Hollywood’s “beautiful people” — actress Joan Van Ark (“Knots Landing”) and newscaster John Marshall (KNBC). Describing how she was actually raised by a series of “overweight Guatemalan women,” she adroitly assumes the personas of such food-dispensing Mother Earth figures as Rosa and Haitian-born Grace.
Marshall also offers tantalizing anecdotes of her friendships with other celebrity offspring, including Joan Rivers’ daughter. As her girth continued to increase, Marshall eventually found her personal salvation in plus modeling, which she fell into almost by accident. Pulling the pads off to once again reveal her slimmer self, Marshall admits the further irony that as her personal happiness and sense of self-worth increased with her modeling success, she found herself less addicted to food and eventually began to slim down to her current size 12 self.
Happy that her recent successes as an actress in film (“Supernova”), television (“City Guys,” “Law and Order”) and voiceover (“The Simpsons”) have helped fill the void, she still longs for the reinforced modeling runway and, like a reformed alcoholic, knows those ever hovering visions of Ding Dongs and cupcakes could become oh so tangible.