Ruby, Tragically Rotund

As the title—and somber Greek chorus—foreshadows, tragedy awaits. But there's plenty of laughs on the way to an ending that is both powerful and out of place in regard to the rest of the 90-minute one-act, written with unflinching honesty by Boni B. Alvarez and snappily directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera. A strong ensemble, highlighted by two magnetic performances, delivers a mostly riveting, although not surprising, story.

Ruby (Ellen D. Williams) is an obese Filipino-American college student living at home with her sister, Jemmalyn (Marc Pelina in drag); kindhearted father, Jepoy (Robert Almodovar); and emotionally volatile mother, Edwina (Fran de Leon), who hates her fat daughter and pushes the skinny Jemmalyn to compete in pageants. When Edwina takes away Ruby's college tuition money to fund Jemmalyn's pursuit of the Miss Sunnyvale title, Ruby responds by secretly entering the pageant. A Greek chorus of Ruby's best friends (Regan Carrington, Alison M. De La Cruz, Angel Felix) helps tell the story.

Several funny scenarios involve Ruby and her friends trying to diet, while the other biggest laughs come from a subplot involving Edwina and a flirtatious admirer named Kline (Mark Doerr). "Ruby" moves away from realism in the climax, which may not match the rest of the play, but it's startling and explosive, thanks to Rivera's breakneck pacing. Williams gives a fearless, realistic performance as the title character. Her mix of confidence and insecurity is on display in every movement and word. The scene-stealer, though, is de Leon, who as Edwina elicits sympathy even though the character exhibits no redeeming qualities. De Leon's comic timing is as impressive as her raw intensity. Presented in the round on a whimsical multicolored set designed by Miguel Montalvo, "Ruby" is an in-your-face look at the emotional scars surrounding obesity that can engage anyone but is likely to connect deeply with women who have shared similar feelings.

Presented by Playwrights' Arena in association with TDRZ Productions and the LATC at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. Sept. 11–Oct. 11. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (213) 489-0994, ext. 107.