Teresa Willis & Trina Fischer in Body Awareness.
By Annie Baker
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Review by Rachel White
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
I love an evening of theater where the people feel like people. The characters of Annie Baker’s Body Awareness are completely flawed. They hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, and they are often insensitive. In Looking for Lilith’s production, however, they are very often funny and charming.
The play centers on a family of misfits in the small town of Shirley, Vermont: Phyllis (Teresa Willis) a college campus organizer of Body Awareness Week, Joyce (Trina Fischer), Phyllis’s partner, and Jared (Richie Goff), Joyce’s son, who may or may not have Asperger’s Syndrome. Underlying tensions in the family nearly boil over when Frank (Sean Childress), a controversial photographer from the festival, becomes a guest in their home. Frank is an artist who paints the nude female body and while his work is highly offensive to Phyllis, it is fascinating to Joyce.
Willis’ self-assured intensity flairs up against Fischer’s anxious vulnerability, creating a deep and compelling relationship that goes beyond bickering and into complicated territory. Throw the volatile Jared into the situation and it is easy to see why Frank, played with slightly dangerous confidence by Sean Childress, offers the family a moment of relief. One of the most honest and funny scenes of the play is when Jared asks Frank for love advice, and Frank gives it to him in straightforward generous style. The directing and acting are wonderfully understated here.
A couple of things I noted: I wondered if Jared’s mood swings should get a little more out of control; they felt slightly muted. If they went to a more dangerous place, I would have better understood Joyce’s emotional response to him as well as her frustration. I also wanted to see more of Phyllis during her speeches. It was hard to see her in the voms and her monologues are really important thematically to the play. If she had been out front, her speeches might have landed more effectively.
Body Awareness raises serious questions about empathy, sexuality, relationships, and the significance of the family in navigating all of these issues. The audience was small for opening night. I hope it will fill up because the work is intelligent and thought provoking and the performances are deeply winning. It’s a very funny and absorbing night of theater.
May 8, 9, 10, 12*, 15, 16, 17 – 7:30 pm
May 17 – 2:00 pm
Looking for Lilith Theatre
at the U of L Thrust Theatre
2314 S. Floyd St., Louisville, KY
$18, $15 for students and seniors
*Community Night – Discounted tickets available!
Reservations: (502) 638-2559