Body Awareness by Annie Baker, The Wilma, January 4-Feb. 5, 2012. Review of Opening night Jan. 11 for WRTI, 90. 1 fm
Annie Baker, whose witty Becky Shaw was here two seasons ago has Body Awareness on The Wilma boards. Anne Kauffman again directs. With a title like Body Awareness there will be laughs; for this taste not enough. Baker, who was raised in Amherst (MA) where her mother taught, has created a fictional Shirley College in Vermont. Body Awareness Week – a proactive way of addressing eating disorders! – has been organized by Phyllis (Grace Gonglewski), the pysch professor who loves Joyce (Mary Martello), the mother of a socially challenged son who may have Asperger’s Syndrome.
Baker’s play attempts to poke gentle fun at alternative lifestyles and the academic Feminist rants against the traditional “white male gaze.” But the play’s own Political Correctness does itself in. We’re presented with 20- year- old Jared’s discomfort with his body and sexuality; then his mother, Joyce’s low self- esteem in the lesbian relationship… When Frank, the visiting artist arrives, Joyce’s attraction to his work with the female nude threatens Phyllis personally and her big Week. A dysfunctional family appears to come unglued.
The versatile Gonglewski gives the feminist professor a sly earnestness swinging from exuberant pronouncements to stern morality. Martello whose comic turns have won Philadelphians over doesn’t have as much opportunity for them here as she plays the anxious mother. She and Gonglewski are first rate but Baker’s material doesn’t rise to their level. LA’s Christopher Councill as Frank suggests enough sleeze and compassion to keep his motives in doubt. Dustin Ingram — as the awkward Jared– has fine timing and a waywardness to suggest something is indeed ‘off.’ But excellent acting, and staging (Mimi Lien) can’t overcome the problems of plot. Who believes a teacher’s son would not be tested for Asperger’s? Baker’s script throws hints about characters it fails to resolve. It’s tough to talk about sex let alone make it funny. Body Awareness at The Wilma through Feb. 5, is often a downer and too self- conscious for its own good.