Literature 8-8-2012

FRINGE SHORTS: “Bodacious Beauties” by Eileen Rosensteel

Amber Davis was intrigued by Eileen Rosensteel's turn-of-the-20th century piece on sideshows and sizeism, and though the premise is promising, the script lacks the nuanced storytelling that would have made its message more resonant for modern audiences.


AN OLD-TIME CARNIVAL BARKER encouraged Fringe audiences to “step right up!” Friday night of the festival’s opening weekend, hawking the chance for a one-on-one conversation with five circus sideshow performers, all of whom were played by one woman. Eileen Rosensteel, who wrote and performed Bodacious Beauties, has created five monologues of fictional characters from 1910 – 1946, all sideshow workers from different travelling circuses.  

In this piece, Rosensteel takes on the very current topic of size discrimination and throws it under the microscope, telling the stories of women who performed in human oddity shows. When the lights went up, Rosensteel stepped onto a minimally set stage, with only a chair and a table of simple props. From there, the performance branches out in a series of monologues, each showcasing a different fictional Fat Lady.

Jumping through place and time, the five characters command our attention through their triumphs and sadness, sharing the deeply personal struggles with the stigma surrounding weight and joys of life lived as an “oddity.” Near the end of the script the character Baby Bessie observes that sideshows are becoming a thing of the past, articulating her fear for the future, saying it’s harder for a woman her size to find work. This moment has so much potential, it could have illuminated a whole new point of view on the issue of size discrimination, but the script simply doesn’t deliver. And so that promise falls flat.

Eileen Rosensteel is a brave performer, creating charming characters that smile, laugh, and dance. With a smart use of simple props, it’s easy to follow her performance and transformation between characters. Although rooted in some great ideas, Rosensteel’s script, however, falls short, lacking the necessary depth to capture much nuance in the complicated issues of sizeism. The setting of the plot allows for some creativity in dissecting discrimination in a new light, but the play’s treatment of the issues won’t connect with modern-day audiences.


Related links and performance details:

Bodacious Beauties has just two performances left at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis: Wednesday, 8/8 at 5:30 pm and Saturday, 8/11 at 8:30 pm. Find more on the Fringe Festival show page:

Find reviews, ticket info and more on the Fringe Festival website:

Check back on the homepage regularly throughout the Fringe Festival, August 2 – 12, for more short reviews on, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.


About the author: Amber Davis is an actor, puppeteer, stage manager, and teaching artist in the Twin Cities. Davis has worked with the Walker Arts Center and Open Eye Theatre, The Jungle Theater, The Children’s Theater, Orchestra Hall, Free Arts Minnesota, Mu Performing Arts, Savage Umbrella, Aporia Theatre, and Chameleon Theatre Circle.  She co-organizes Wheel Sexya bicycle cabaret and burlesque show. Savage Umbrella’s most recent project, Davis directed and designed The Golden Carp, a new chamber opera.