Wilma does Body Talk

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.

One thought on “Wilma does Body Talk”

  1. Thank you for your comment and perhaps yes I am thinking too much. We profesisonal critics sometimes (often?) do this and it’s hard to avoid though I try to think with my heart and gut as well as my head. I found Becky Shaw much sharper and wittier however, and stick by my ‘gut’ this time as well as my head but yes it definitely resonates with what some families may go through. ALl best and thanks so much for reading! L.V.

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