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Join the SuperGym, Scrawny Weaklings! 

Published January 18, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.

When I went to the N.A.S.A. grant work-in-progress showing of SuperGym last Saturday at FlynnSpace, I was ready for a spoof of gym culture. Actually, I was ready for a ferocious take-down of the whole health-and-fitness mentality.

Don't get me wrong. I belong to a gym. I love my gym (among other things, it's an opportunity to catch up on Star and Us Weekly). I believe in eating healthy foods, even sometimes beets and rutabaga.

But on Friday, I started editing articles for our upcoming Health & Fitness issue. First I learned about CrossFit, a national fitness movement whose devotees swear off sugar and carbs and do hard-core, fast-paced workout combos of push-ups, weight lifting, gymnastics and squats till they puke (sometimes literally). Next, I learned about cleansing regimens. Then I read a story about a local therapist who treats eating as an addiction. After all that clean-living propaganda, I was ready to try the cleansing cocktail recipe.

The next day, I went to Sharp Park and climbed a steep, slippery hill that nearly gave me a heart attack. Three times, dragging an inner tube. I knew I still hadn't "embraced the suck" (CrossFit lingo for working yourself till you drop in an abject puddle). But I was ready for Emily Frappier's SuperGym: The Musical.

As noted above, SuperGym is a work in progress. Playwright Frappier, who lives in Berkshire, says in the program notes that she started working on a play about a woman with an eating disorder over a decade ago. As time passed, the serious drama morphed into something lighter and funnier: a satire of America's weirdly extreme attitudes toward food and fitness. With songs.

The Flynn's New Art Space Assistance Grant gave Frappier a chance to develop her idea with composers (her husband, Andrew Frappier; Ben Maddox and Lisa Judge), a lyricist (Rob Bliss) and a crew of actors. On Saturday, they presented four musical numbers tied together with dialogue (some live, some prerecorded) and video clips.

From the program: "SuperGym is set in the city of Sveltania in a future where human kind is constantly exposed to unhealthy, cheap and tasty foods while also being given an impossible model of beauty and health."

Future? That sounds like right now. Anyway, the slightly futuristic premise of SuperGym is that a fascist entrepreneur/fitness guru named BP is filling the land with his SuperGyms and their related product lines and propaganda. Citizens must join or face ostracism as "fatties." At the same time, snack manufacturers (who may just be under BP's corporate umbrella) tempt them in the opposite direction.

The musical's plot concerns BP's daughter Ava (Elyse Wadsworth), who is rebelliously dating a scrawny, unbuff vegetarian (Jake Blodgett). She soon shapes up and transfers her attentions to a trainer named Thor (Jeremy Fraize), who is all that his name suggests. But Thor -- who declares his preference for women with "junk in the trunk" in an amusing number -- is starting to have doubts about the SuperGym way.

What really had the audience laughing were the video clips of Thor's workout commercials. A spiritual brother to Hans and Franz of the old "SNL" skits -- but without the padding -- Thor wants to pump us up, perhaps in more senses than one. Check out the "Treadmill Tango" video (pictured), in which he demonstrates a red-hot workout with a lucky lady played by Frappier's mom, Carri Baker. Or "Thor Knows Racquetball," in which a less lucky gym shunner finds himself at the receiving end of Thor's serve. Or Thor's "29.7 Second Abs" video. Maybe it's not the most original concept, but Fraize, who also edited the clips, has this character down.

A faux commercial for sweet, salty, deep-fried Yum Cakes -- with the tagline "A better reason to wear sweat pants" and Andrew Frappier playing the sweat-pants wearer -- was also pretty funny.

Though SuperGym takes place in "Sveltania," I couldn't help noticing that characters refer smugly to their city's status as the nation's healthiest. Which means Sveltania is actually ... Burlington. And when Sveltania's government bans the sale of junk food ... sounds a bit like that proposed state tax on sugar water, no? OK, maybe that's pushing it.

Still, it would certainly be fitting for the complete version of SuperGym to have its premiere in Burlington, city of health and fitness and wellness and all good things.

(Incidentally, All Good Things just happens to be the name of a recent film in which tragedy befalls New York real-estate heir Ryan Gosling and his wife Kirsten Dunst after they leave Vermont, where they lived wholesomely and owned a health-food store called All Good Things. Yes, it's fact based, but methinks director Andrew Jarecki, brother of part-time Waitsfield resident Eugene, leaned a bit hard on the "healthy Vermontiness" theme.)

With any luck, we will get to see Thor sing his ode to the ass in a full-length musical production one day.

Meanwhile, hit the gym, you slackers! I know I'll be returning to the elliptical, if only to find out whether Sandra is really dating Ryan and what Scarlett has to say about it. I might even lift some weights. But there will be no tangoing, cleansing or puking.

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About The Author

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.


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