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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Too Fat for China

Phoebe Potts

Genre: Comedy

Venue: Greenside at Infirmary Street


Low Down

Comedic storyteller Phoebe Potts sets the scene with large backdrop cartoons to tell the tale of her quest to adopt a child.


Phoebe Potts and her husband Jeff Marshall are settled in to a comfortable, middle-class, white, New York City lifestyle. What’s missing for them is a child.  This one-woman presentation is the story of their mission to try to conceive a baby, and then work to adopt one.  It is a charming hour of comedy, drama, pathos, tears, heartbreak, and triumph of will.  The monologue is “narrated” by what she describes as the “newsroom in her head”, all of the thoughts and conflicts brought to bear throughout their journey.

Phoebe grew up in a somewhat traditional Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York “where everyone was indignant before breakfast.”  She married Jeff, and they settled into a New York apartment.  Their pursuit of parenthood raised many questions for Phoebe.  What are the requirements to be a mother?  It is a busy full-time job with no pay.  How will adding a child to their world change their lives?  How will they approach the sometimes heartbreaking work of raising another human being?

After miscarriages and failed attempts at conception, including in vitro fertilization, hilariously described in graphic detail, they decide to adopt.  That path opens up more questions.

First, there are the moral dilemmas.  Adoption means taking someone else’s child out of their birth community.  How does that affect the birth mother and her extended family?  In one case, the community stepped in to take responsibility for a baby whose mother had intended to release him to Phoebe and Jeff. What are the economic and racial inequalities for the birth parents?   Phoebe cites statistics that show that babies of colour have less value in adoption than others.  How does international adoption affect the child who is taken from their home country? What will be his or her story and history?

Phoebe describes adoption as a complex and family-making business:  the agency is the vendor and the adoptive parents are the customers. How will they be judged?  There are home studies by social workers, who look at all of the requirements for fitness for parenting. Some of the social workers seem intrusive and dismissive.   Phoebe has gained weight, resulting in her BMI (body mass index) exceeding the maximum allowable for a Chinese adoption, hence the show title “Too Fat for China”.

For Phoebe and Jeff, family is a closed circuit of love.  They never give up on their pursuit.

There is a detailed history lesson told of the ancestry of Ethiopian Jews, beginning with the Queen of Sheba.  Phoebe and Jeff decide to go to Ethiopia to finally connect with a baby for their family.  After three months of waiting in the country, they are able to bring home their new son.

According to the UN, there are tens of millions of orphans in the world.  International adoption is big industry. Potential parents need to be well-funded to pay the costs, including the travel to the adopting country.  That can be anywhere from $26,000 to $60,000 U.S., and not every adoption pursuit ends in success.

“Too Fat For China” is an extremely well-researched and brilliantly written show.    The narration is enhanced by her clever cartoon graphics shown on the rolling screen of a crankie, a kind of old-style life-sized white board but with paper.  The storytelling is funny, smart, heartwarming and heartbreaking.  The pacing is spot on, from pathos to laughter.  Phoebe is charming and engaging.  The audience feels her pain and is cheering for her success.  She has skillfully taken a very personal and complicated topic and turned it into a memorable and highly entertaining piece.  It is a beautiful story that should be seen by anyone who is a parent, is thinking about parenting, or simply wants to enjoy a great tale.