“Body Awareness” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ April 2, 2012


Actors Theatre, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Actors Theatre’s often picks shows not known to local audiences and then surprises with appealing hits.  Occasionally, it picks shows that sound interesting but prove disappointing.  Such is the case with playwright Annie Baker’s “Body Awareness” even though Baker wrote last season’s much stronger “Circle Mirror Transformation.”  “Body Awareness” jumbles several serious issues and never resolves anything in a short, superficial one-act piece.

The multi-layered play tries to tackle too many serious issues with no real depth or insight.  It’s about a university’s body awareness week in fictional Shirley, Vermont.  Psychologist Phyllis organizes the week and brings several guest artists to talk about body image including photographer Frank, who Phyllis and her partner, Joyce, host.  Also living with them is Jared, Joyce’s son who struggles to express himself physically because he may have Asperger’s Syndrome.  The pair’s strained relationship is complicated by a variety of pressures, inhibitions, and misconceptions.  With Frank’s arrival, things grow more complicated and since he is famous for his female nude photos, Joyce decides to pose against Phyllis’ wishes.

There are so many issues explored that the play leaves many questions but no real answers.  The plot could go in several interesting directions and it could make valid points about the issues exposed.  By the end, you feel the household jumble, including the women’s strained relationship, will continually raise its weary head providing no stability to help solve Jared’s issues or even settling the relationship.

Director Matthew Wiener does his best with the confused chatter but he never makes “Body Awareness” interesting.  His four-person cast boasts three solid performances and one characterization that further confuses the issues feeding unnecessarily into the playwright’s unwillingness to expose her own thinking or to provide even artificial solutions.

Maria Amorocho’s solid Joyce seems genuinely challenged by her son and her relationship.  Ian Christensen tackles Frank with dogged determination and expresses believable bewilderment when Jared turns to him for answers he doesn’t have.  Will Hightower’s confused Jared adds the right touch of doubt about his real medical condition as he flip-flops between logic and illogic.  Only Amanda Melby’s Phyllis fails to suggest any hint of a relationship with Joyce and she never acts like a true psychologist who should be able to grapple with the challenges her character is thrown.

“Body Awareness” tackles several valid challenges that many people face but by covering the issues so superficially, it leaves audiences searching for answers.  It’s frustrating and unsatisfying.  “Body Awareness” continues through April 15.  For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.actorstheatrephx.org.

Grade: D