Theatre Review: ‘Body Awareness’ at Theatre J

MaryBethWise, Susan Lynskey, and Adi Stein. Photographs by C. Stanley Photography.

Theater J, at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center, presents Body Awareness by Annie Baker, as the opening of their themed THIS IS WHO WE ARE:  Beginnings, Belonging, Becoming and Breaking Through 2012-2013 Theater season.

With Body Awareness, Annie Baker gives the audience a peek through a window into the home of lovers Phyllis (Susan Lynskey) and Joyce (MaryBeth Wise) as well as Joyce’s son Jared (Adi Stein).  The view is loving, engaging, and many times gut-wrenchingly revealing.

It is Body Awareness Week at Shirley State College in Vermont, and Psychology professor Phyllis is unwavering in her task to find speakers and performers who reinforce her viewpoint that women must take “ownership” of their body image.  Women should not look to others, especially men, to define what is beautiful; it must come from within.

Phyllis’s eye begins twitching when she learns that visiting photographer, Frank Bonitaibus (Michael Kramer), is exhibiting his female nude portraits during her Body Awareness Week and these nude portraits, she believes, objectify women by giving the “ownership” of body image directly to men.  “The whole thing is like a joke now.  I bring in a nutritionist, I bring in a race and gender panel, I bring in a _____ domestic violence quilt, and then we have exploitative nude photographs … hanging in the Student Union.”

The play weaves it way through the family’s issues of identity, sexuality, and gender roles to form a beautiful and colorful picture of a modern family. 

Phyllis then comes home to find Frank is their houseguest, and as her stress level increases, so does her eye twitching.  Joyce and Frank greet Phyllis on her arrival, but Phyllis is incensed over the obvious chemistry between the two of them.   Frank is a man’s man, and Kramer does a great job in looking and portraying everything a man is supposed to be.   He drinks beer, crudely expresses himself, wears flannel shirts, jeans and clunky boots, and really loves to see women without their clothes on; and Joyce is captivated.

Michael Kramer and MaryBeth Wise. Photographs by C. Stanley Photography.

Frank also makes a big impact on Joyce’s son, Jared.  Raised with two women, he and Joyce begin to wonder if his quirky behavior is brought on by a suspected diagnosis of Asperger syndrome or it is the result of his lack of a father figure in his life.   Phyllis is convinced Jared has Asperger’s syndrome; Jared, Joyce, and Frank are not.

The play weaves it way through the family’s issues of identity, sexuality, and gender roles to form a beautiful and colorful picture of a modern family.  In fact, the entire cast is consistently believable in their roles.  You will find yourself so lost in the lives of these people that you will find yourself hoping they will forget to close the window each night so you can continue watching.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Advisory: play contains adult subjects and language.

Body Awareness plays at Theatre J, 1529 16th Street NW Washington DC. For more information and tickets call 800-494-8497 or click here.