REVIEW: The Silicone Diaries, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña

The Silicone Diaries

Written by Nina Arsenault
Directed by Brendan Healy

Presented by Buddies in Bad Times at Talullah's Cabaret
November 14-22, 8pm
Tickets: 416-975-8555

Photo by David Hawe

Nina Arsenault, I think, is 6 foot 2. She has tumbling red hair that tangles above her shoulders, a perfect waspy ski-jump nose and too-green green eyes. The roundest hips, the longest legs, the smallest waist, the thinnest wrists, the fullest breasts. She has had over 60 cosmetic surgeries.

She looks like Jessica Rabbit and I am a little bit afraid of her.

She discusses, in The Silicone Diaries, how she came to be this way; the passion that drove her to create this perfect, surreal, intimidating woman.

This is not necessarily a piece about making the transition from man to woman. Arsenault did make that transition, but this is nothing so elementary. She instead reveals through her impeccably performed monologues that as long as she has known what she thought was beautiful she has sped toward achieving it with athletic focus. It is her obsession.

Of course I'm obsessed with beauty, too. I'm a woman and I live in North America, and in the darkest parts of my heart where I keep the fear that I may be a bad person and all of the vicious things I've ever thought is the belief that my value is equal to my looks, be they good or bad. My brain and my politics would argue, but I have so many nightmares about disfigurement that it's ridiculous to pretend these things don't matter to me.

A sexist society created the idea that though beauty was a requirement for a woman's success, it was a shallow and frivolous thing to pursue. This is a particularly Western shame, and throughout the course of the show Arsenault compares herself to a Geisha, a type of woman she believes is respected for her dedication to beauty at all costs. Here, the men in charge feel a deep guilt for being aroused by beauty in all of its arresting power and not by puritan-valued wifely qualities like compassion, sweetness or warmth.

If this idea is changing, and I believe it is, Arsenault is at the front line. It was wonderful to discover, throughout the course of this remarkable show, that the woman so initially intimidating to me is open, honest, funny and brilliant.

The Silicone Diaries, based on a series of columns Arsenault wrote in Fab Magazine, contains stories that may seem grotesque or frightening to those uninitiated to the pursuit of beauty through plastic. Though I am an enthusiastic visitor to web sites like, I was shocked to learn that silicone would try to seep out through the injection holes by which it found its way in, or that it remained malleable under the flesh for days. There are clinics in Mexico and San Francisco, there is a lover in the shape of Mr. Burns, there is a living anime doll, and there is Nina at the centre of it all in a see-through dress with nothing to hide. The storytelling is vivid and unique. It makes a community of surgery devotees accessible, and though the feeling of the show is intimate (Talullah's Cabaret is small, packed, and there are drinks being served) it is the opposite of confidential. Arsenault is proud of her surgeries, proud of who she is and how she got there.

I had seen a shorter version of the show some years ago at a revue called Avant Vardeville at the Theatre Centre. It was then a frank discussion of the mechanics of her surgeries. I thought it was fascinating, but Arsenault herself is the real attraction. This new version, with its extreme emotional connect, gives the viewer the gift of the performer's humanity. This gift is why we go to the theatre.

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