Courtesy of Abigail C. Onwunali

Over the weekend, the Yale Cabaret’s Company of Cab 53 presented a virtual comedy show called “In-Between Bitches.” The show addressed issues of body awareness and body dysmorphia, specifically tackling the experiences of a Black woman in between conventional beauty standards. 

“In-Between Bitches,” proposed, written and directed by Abigail Onwunali DRA ’23, is about a college senior Lisa who deals with body dysmorphia. In the show, Lisa exercises and starves herself until her reflection and food — including Sweet Spicy Chili Doritos, SlimFast and Oreos — begin talking to her. In search of help, she turns to group therapy sessions.

“A lot of the inspiration for the play came from my experience with therapy and getting help outside of my own mind,” Onwunali said. “I wanted to talk about the trials and tribulations of a Black woman who is obligated to either look very thin or very curvy; otherwise, those who are in between are never enough. I felt like I was in between.”

At Yale, Onwunali joined a food therapy group called “Making Peace with Food.” Onwunali met other women on the “same wavelength,” which helped her healing process. Through her play, she hoped to provide a similar “sentiment of support and sense that no one is alone in what they are going through.”

“In-Between Bitches” was initially written to be staged live. The pandemic brought a change of plans. Onwunali adapted the script to a format of phone conversations among characters, and then contacted Sami Cubias DRA ’23 and Annabel Guevara DRA ’24 in January to coproduce the Zoom play.

“I signed on immediately because I’ve seen [Onwunali] perform in a few shows at the School of Drama and always thought just how talented she was,” Cubias said. “But also, the show itself resonated so deeply with my own story of undergoing treatment for an eating disorder. It was so moving, so of course, I was on board.”

Because of the health and safety restrictions, Cab members adapted their rehearsal process and logistical preparations. But the team did their best “to work with Zoom rather than trying to beat it,” according to Onwunali.

For example, the team shipped the show’s costumes to cast members, whose locations ranged from New Haven to Barbados and Australia. 

Members involved in the project noted that the production process was guided by “warmth and care,” as their health and well-being were prioritized. Most rehearsals, barring during tech week, did not exceed an hour.

“We were trying to confront this burnout culture,” said actor Whitney Andrews DRA ’24. “We didn’t have to exhaust ourselves for three hours in Zoom daily to produce a decent product. Our work really proved that exhaustion doesn’t equal excellence or worthiness.”

Additionally, rehearsals had “check-in” and “checkout” periods at the beginning and end, so that cast members and crew could share their thoughts in a safe space. Onwunali said their goal was to ensure that anyone feeling unsafe or triggered by the play’s themes could openly talk about their concerns.

Andrews said that in the past, actors were usually discouraged from discussing private matters during rehearsals. She said these discussions are often seen as “obstacles” to work. But for this show, the team chose a different approach. Actors were encouraged to embrace their mental states and “go with the flow.”

This collaborative atmosphere led to a resonant show for women of color dealing with eating disorders or body image issues, Cubias said. 

According to Cab members, “In-Between Bitches” conveys self-acceptance and self-love to the audience.

“There’s a line in the play: ‘Every day, I try to meet myself at perfect,’” Onwunali said. “I hope the viewers can do just that. All of us have different bodies, and we love them in different ways. Making sure that you feel happy, healthy and worthy at the point where you are right now is one of the main takeaways here.”

“Making Peace with Food” is a 60-minute weekly therapy group at Yale that addresses eating issues. Those interested can call 203-432-0290 to schedule an initial appointment with a therapist at Yale Health.

Tania Tsunik | tania.tsunik@yale.edu