Body Awareness in Philadelphia

Hmm, now I can type reviews and blog entries on my iPhone – these times they are a-changing.

I returned to the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia this evening, where I had previously made an out of towner cameo visit to catch my final play of 2010, “The Understudy” by Theresa Rebeck.

This time, I was drawn to “Body Awareness” by Annie Baker. The writer, a fellow New England native, has become known for her Vermont-set dramas including “Circle Mirror Transformation” and I recall my knowing amusement when reading her describe one of her imagined Vermont settings (within a newspaper interview) as a cross between Putney, Vermont, Amherst, Massachusetts, and Bolinas, California; two of three towns that I have very close ties to.

This story took place in “Shirley” Vermont, meant to be somewhere in the southern tier of the state. The story peeled away several layers as it went on, and on the whole seemed that it could be a sibling or cousin to the 2010 film The Kids are All Right. Both works take a similar plot focus on a lesbian couple facing male/man induced discord, though with Body Awareness, the circumstances were different and the title itself became a recurring theme in the story.

I don’t want to divulge the whole plot here, but I will say that the lives of the protagonist couple, Joyce and Phyllis, proved to be detailed and relatable. Both 50-something women essentially became co-main characters in the story. Well, the writing gives an edge to Joyce, but as a viewer I felt that Phyllis’ choices and predicaments were equally dramatized.

The women are supported by two memorable men in their life. They share custody of Joyce’s biological son Jared, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome. A visiting artist, Frank, makes himself at home in their house while guest lecturing and exhibiting at Phyllis’ school, Shirley State College. Joyce employs herself as a teacher at the local high school, but (in the one visible plot hole/weakness) is never seen in her classroom or at work. Complications ensue over the course of a fateful “Body Awareness” week.

The actors spread themselves out on a spacious, wide set, adjusting itself with help from the lighting department to serve as multiple venues. Portions of scenes were played with backs to the audience, and while that can be a dynamic staging choice, I found it to be a flat element here. Vocal projection seemed soft at times. Nonetheless, all four actors maintained full commitment and seemed to appreciate the versatility of each part – no role was one note.

I do appreciate the Wilma’s commitment to new and/or thematically adventurous plays and look forward to returning there later in their season.


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