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Domenica Feraud makes her Off-Broadway debut with the drama Rinse, Repeat
Actors often feel vulnerable when baring their bodies onstage. But for writer-performer Domenica Feraud, being fully exposed in her debut play Rinse, Repeat, currently at Off-Broadway's Pershing Square Signature Center, has been particularly hard since the show was inspired by her struggle with an eating disorder. Ironically, during previews she had her period. As a sophomore at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, she was spurred to start working on Rinse, Repeat when she stopped menstruating due to being severely underweight.
"I needed to put a play into the world about this subject matter," says Feraud, noting that while drug and alcohol addictions are often explored in theatre, eating issues are not. "There are a lot of eating disorders hiding in plain sight. It's an illness filled with denial and shame because we don't talk about it."
Over the years, Rinse, Repeat has transformed from a personal account of Feraud's recovery journey to a drama about a fictional family's fraught relationship with food. Feraud stars as Rachel Tellner, a young woman who returns home after four months in rehab for anorexia. Initially, she's excited to spend time with her loved ones, but soon she realizes her own health may be in jeopardy because her family -- especially her mother (Florencia Lozano of One Life to Live fame) -- refuse to face their own problems.
Fittingly, most scenes take place in the Tellners' enviable suburban kitchen. Rachel's parents are instructed to prepare a restricted diet for their daughter as she continues to heal. An anticipated marker in Rachel's recovery process is the return of her period. But as the play's title suggests, there are also other cycles at play here. "It's about the cyclical nature of an eating disorder, which is almost impossible to break," Feraud says.
In addition to mining her own experience, Feraud did a massive amount of research while writing Rinse, Repeat. She consulted family therapists and health care specialists, and read case studies of treatment processes to flesh out the Tellners' tale. "It took so long for me to figure out who these people were," she admits.
She also showed the in-progress script to a cadre of powerhouse women in theatre to get their feedback. Two-time Tony winner Judith Light was one of its first readers, and Signature Theatre's artistic director Paige Evans, New York City Center CEO Arlene Shuler and director Anne Kauffman have been some of the play's champions throughout its development.
One of the biggest challenges has been making sure the heavy subject matter isn't so unrelenting that the audience tunes out. "People need to breathe, people need to laugh," says Feraud. That's why she turned Rachel's brother Brody (Jake Ryan Lozano) into the show's comic relief, a high school senior who spouts deadpan one-liners and sports eccentric athleisure wear.
According to Feraud, even theatregoers who don't know anything about anorexia, bulimia and the like will be able to connect with the play because, after all, everyone has some relationship to food and family. "A huge thing for me was realizing that this play is more than just about eating disorders," she says. "It's about this family and what they're going through." She points to Rachel's attempts to please her demanding mom and dad (Tony nominee Michael Hayden). "That's something I think a lot of us can relate to: twisting ourselves into all sorts of shapes so that our parents will love us," Feraud says.
As for Feraud's real-life parents, they've been immensely supportive and involved throughout the play's evolution, attending its many readings and even taking notes during previews. "I think they hope this will be healing for me," she says.
Feraud wants the healing to extend to the audience, too. After every Tuesday performance, the cast is joined by health care specialists and representatives from the National Eating Disorders Association, who answer questions, talk about warning signs and give advice about how to support those suffering with eating-related illnesses.
"It's a hard play, so I think it is important to create a platform to talk about it after," Feraud says. "I hope to create an environment where people can feel comfortable sharing stories to lessen the stigma and the shame."
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Rinse, Repeat. Go here to browse our current offers.
Allison Considine is a staff writer at American Theatre magazine. Follow her at @theatric_ally. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Domenica Feraud in Rinse, Repeat. Photos by Jenny Anderson.