Cirque du Sweat, Sweat Girls, at National Pastime Theater, through June 14. In her posthumously published memoir about anorexia, Appetites: Why Women Want, Caroline Knapp describes female physical self-hatred as something that “can hit like a slap…that rises up from a place so deep it feels like instinct.” In their latest poignant, witty effort, the Sweat Girls do battle against those demons in the arena of a metaphorical circus. Four of the usual seven company members created the show and take turns in the center ring, delivering monologues about their bodies and their lives as they negotiate the tightrope walk to middle age.

Martie Sanders relates a hilarious tale about heading off into a blizzard to attend her 20th high school reunion, thinking she might nab an unwitting sperm donor: “I was like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, hunting down my sperm prey.” Pamela Webster shares what a burden it is to be the pretty girl–friends tell her “Well, at least you look good” when her body gives out for months after a severe allergic reaction. “Would they say I make a pretty corpse?” she wonders. Cindy Hanson is the consummate clown, and Clare Nolan’s quietly desperate search for spiritual peace leads her back to her friends, reminding us that the best antidote for self-loathing is the company of the wise and witty.