The kitchen of the house where Rachel grew up is one of those luxuriously capacious rooms that look so alluring in the pages of glossy magazines. Airy and tasteful, with lots of white and lots of light, it has plenty of counter space for preparing meals and an abundance of spots to sit, eat, talk.
A kitchen like this can put food at the center of affluent family life, and in Domenica Feraud’s potent, layered new drama “Rinse, Repeat,” that’s absolutely where it is for Rachel and her mother, Joan — just not in any remotely healthy, happy way.
Directed by Kate Hopkins at the Pershing Square Signature Center, the play opens with Rachel (Ms. Feraud) arriving home to Greenwich, Conn., for the first time in four months. She’s an undergraduate at Yale with a 4.0 G.P.A., but she hasn’t been away in New Haven. She’s been an inpatient at a treatment center, clawing her way back toward health from the anorexia that almost killed her.
Her parents, alas, were too consumed with work to pick her up for a trial weekend to see if she’s ready to be released. So she’s taken an Uber — the first of many signs that Joan (Florencia Lozano) and Peter (Michael Hayden), for all their love of their daughter, have failed to grasp the fragility of her recovery.
They surely also have no idea, and maybe Rachel doesn’t fully understand either, how toxic the dynamics around food are in their family. Joan, a lawyer with a thriving practice who has always aimed to mold Rachel in her image, seems to survive mainly on coffee — an attempt to starve her Latina body into a no-hipped white ideal.
Peter, the sandy-haired trust-fund son of a weight-obsessed mother, dutifully loads butter and cream into the food he cooks to boost Rachel’s calorie count, yet seems unperturbed that his wife barely eats. Extreme thinness is a female beauty norm that Rachel learned best at home.
That’s where she was schooled in perfectionism, too, and at 21 the thing she fears most — more than food, even — is disappointing her mother, who has a bulldozer ambition on Rachel’s behalf. But what Rachel wants is not the law-school future that Joan keeps pushing. Rachel yearns to be a poet.
“You could write in some park in like Paris,” her teenage brother, Brody (Jake Ryan Lozano), says mildly. Angry though he is at his sister for having nearly killed herself, he is the only one — aside from her calm, firm therapist, Brenda (Portia) — paying attention to Rachel’s own desires.
The passages of Rachel’s poetry that we hear aren’t as powerful, emotionally or artistically, as they need to be, and Brittany Vasta’s set is ingenious yet frustrating; we don’t always get a clear view of what Rachel and Joan are doing, or not doing, with their food. But in a play that’s smart, compassionate and angry, the cast is excellent, the characters fully dimensional.
As the title suggests, “Rinse, Repeat” is about a cycle — a tradition of harm handed down from one generation of women to the next, nurtured by the men in their lives. Rachel is trying to break free.
Through Aug. 17 at the Pershing Square Signature Center, Manhattan; 212-279-4200, rinserepeatplay.com. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
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