Three New Great Reviews – Let’s Hear Yours (and Introducing Our Student Bloggers!)

Thursday’s brought a trio of great new notices, worth sharing, comparing, and adding your own voice to.  We start with Broadway World.com

And follow it up with The Washington City Paper

And the wonderful review in Washington Jewish Week that, surprisingly, takes an unexpected turn in the last sentence.  Wonder what you think about Lisa Traiger’s final advisory.

This is also the place to officially welcome 16 students from University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley and Merced, and Notre Dame University; all under-grads residing here in DC for the semester enjoying internships by day on Capital Hill, taking 3 or so classes at night, and one of the electives is my “A Theater of Politics & The Politics of Theater” course.  This semester, as in years previous, all enrolled students will become subscribers to Theater J and see everything we’re offering over the next 15 weeks.  Look for students blogs on readings and productions.  And look for connections being made between what we’re producing, and what we’re seeing produced on other area stages.  The triangular focus of the course this semester locates three dominant themes:

I.  STAGING WAR:  IMPACT AND AFTERMATH

II.  STRATEGIES IN ADAPTATION

III.  THE ETHICS AND EXIGENCIES OF THE ARTIST 

Clearly, Annie Baker’s play BODY AWARENESS finds its resonance to our course focus in this third category, as we look most closely on the dilemmas posed by the character of Frank and the fierce resistance to the work as evinced by Phyllis.  Joyce is caught (as she is for much of the play about a great many subjects) between Frank and Phyllis’ conflicting visions of what makes for healthy art.  I’m eager to hear people’s take on Phyllis’ fiery critique of Frank’s unseen work (unseen by us, that is).

Some audiences really take to Frank.  They find utterly comfortable with himself; in contrast to Phyllis.  They appreciate his real-world reconciliation with contradiction.  Whereas a minority of others feel Frank remains “a sleaze-ball.”  That’s what makes a horse race.

Your thoughts?

Students will be writing for a general readership here.  Our general readership should feel free to chime in — we’ll keep formal corrections of spelling and the like off the table for a bit — unless we see that there’s really a need to focus attention on some basics.  For now, given the early comments for a few extra credit postings covering Theater J offerings this past weekend, we’re off to a good start.

A few pointers and notes of encouragement.  We like appreciative comments.  But we don’t feel the need to ONLY read supportive comments from students.  Constructive, supportive, humble, insightful criticism can be broached here.

We’ll also put an emphasis on postings not repeating observations and language used earlier.  He or she who posts early has less of a burden of being original!

Again, this is a format whereby students–now Theater J subscribers–are being welcomed into our adult conversations about the work.  We don’t see this as students taking over the discourse.  We see this as a joining of the conversation.  So adults, let’s hold up our end and respond! Let’s add our own voices and impressions about the work we’re seeing.  And respond to the postings as we are inspired.

Thanks!

 

21 thoughts on “Three New Great Reviews – Let’s Hear Yours (and Introducing Our Student Bloggers!)

  1. I really enjoyed watching Theater J’s performance of Body Awareness last night, as well as the subsequent discussion. I had read the script ahead of time and I think it made me more privy to all the noteworthy symbols and motifs from the very beginning of the play. For example, in Phyllis’s opening monologue, I think there is something to be said about her mention of Deepak Chopra and the flies that stay in the bottom of the jar. It was interesting to view that in context of knowing what was going to happen as the play went along and how the characters would or would not feel comfortable about Frank’s artwork, like Phyllis and Joyce, or feel good about themselves and stepping out of their comfort zone, like Jared. Also, having read the script ahead of time gave me an opportunity to really appreciate not only the actors, all the life they brought to the script and the way their acting changed my initial perceptions of the characters, but also the talent of playwright Annie Baker.

    There are so many layers developed through the play developed through motifs like nudity. For example, in Jared and Joyce’s first scene, from the very beginning of the play, women and nudity are brought up in context of porn. It is particularly interesting when Joyce talks about the public hair of the women in porn and tells Jared real women don’t look like that, but then thinking about this in the context of Joyce in the scene with Frank where she tells him that she trimmed her pubic hair for her photograph. Also, I think it is fascinating that with all the talk of the “male gaze”, Joyce never ends up going through with her nude photograph and Jared is the only one who is exposed naked. While what happens is still the form of an assault on a woman, we are able to empathize with Jared.

    I really enjoyed the conversation after the play because I heard differing opinions and thought about things in a new light. I really agreed with the person who talked about how the biggest source of richness in this play was that there were only four characters and each relationship between any two characters is developed so deeply. Each of them have such a unique relationship that is portrayed so well. Another thing about the after show conversation was that it gave me an opportunity to think about Phyllis’s character in a different light. While I really disliked her character for how she treated Joyce and how deeply entrenched she was in her own hypocritical judgements, both with Frank and with Jared, I was able to reflect after hearing the interpretations of other people, especially the actress who played Phyllis. Obviously I felt very sorry for Phyllis in her last speech on Body Awareness week when she sees everything she worked for falling apart, but I think she was very close-minded about both the photograph and the way that Jared should be acting. One thing that was striking to me was how much Phyllis thought that Joyce should treat Jared differently, but Phyllis had a lot of the same quirks and troubles as Jared. In the end, in the scene with the Shabbas when they read out of the “Woman’s Bodies” book, it almost felt like Phyllis was treating that book with the same reverence that Jared treats the OED. I saw a lot of parallels between their characters.

    Ultimately, the play was well written and extraordinarily acted. I am looking forward to seeing more shows this semester.

    • I too agree that the richness of this play is in that it is only about four characters and the complexity of their interactions. I like how you point out the similarity between Jared’s obsession with the OED and Phyllis’ obsession with the book “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom”. I think these two characters have lots of things in common and yet refuse to see them. I found their discussion of prescriptivism versus descriptivism to be one of the most interesting scenes, and even more so when they both seem to fall in the same category of “prescriptivists”.

      • Yes, I wholeheartedly agree. What drove me crazy about Phyllis was how she failed to see that a lot of the problems she had with other people stemmed from her own issues, whether in her relationship with Joyce, her handling of Body Awareness week (like when her eye starts twitching after Joyce asks what Palestinian refugee dancers have to do with body awareness) or in the way she sees things, like with Jared and Frank.

  2. “Body Awareness” was a fast-paced, smart, and insightful look into the way labels function in family and interpersonal relationships. As we discussed after the show, the characters seek to label and define one another throughout the play. Jarred struggles to recognize his symptoms of Asberger’s, visiting artist Frank appears alternatively as an understanding artist and a “sleaze ball,” and Phyllis and Joyce snipe at one another over what it means to be an academic.

    I found Frank a fascinating character, definitely a catalyst for conflict between Phyllis and Joyce. Phyllis views Frank as a sleazy manifestation of the “male gaze,” taking exploitative photos of women and objectifying them. She argues that the artist’s intent behind creating a work is just as important as the artistic value of the work itself; as she points out, a viewer’s perspective on a painting of bush men may change depending on whether the photographer was a fellow bush man or a white man.

    I was more inclined to agree with Joyce’s evaluation of Frank, however. She views his work as a worthy pursuit of beauty, a nonjudgmental version of the male gaze. Joyce’s need to feel validated by Frank through the photographs is troubling and suggests her loss of self, but I don’t think that’s Frank’s fault. He is willing to take her photograph in a professional way, and is not very concerned with his subjects’ reasons for taking the photographs. The interest, for Frank, is the viewer’s reaction to the photos – they portray all generations of beauty, but cause conflict and questions at the same time.

  3. Body Awareness is a quirky play filled with a dark side. The play asks questions over what is “normal,” what is “wierd,” and what is “beautiful.” But there is a deeper subtext that experiments with the relation between mind and body.

    Each character is introduced as, somewhat “off” as the play begins, but in some way grow into somewhat real as the play progresses. This lends itself well to Jarred’s obsession with the dictionary and what kinds of definitions are being used, prescriptive or descriptive. When we are first introduced to Jarred, his mother is gently attempting to persuade him to get medical help for what she thinks is Aspergers. Jarred refuses, claiming that he is not “retarded.” This again illustrates the point between prescriptive and descriptive language, a battle that Jarred odly sides on with prescriptive definitions, showing blurred lines for even an expert on entomology.

    The play was rife with subtle relationships between the actor’s physical bodies and their mental state. Phyllis, the organizer of body awarenesss, had an eye twitch every time she was upset, an eye twitch that only she could see in the same way that only she could understand when she was upset. Joyce also had connections between physical experiences and thoughts on her past. Frank saw ghosts, but could feel it “in here (his heart).” Jarred took the feeling one step further in the end of the play.

    Many questions remain at the end of Body Awareness. Does Jarred have Aspergers? Is Frank a sleaze ball? But these are irrelevant. The love that the family has for each other, and their reignition of faith means that they are aware of so much more.

  4. I found Body Awareness to be an enlightening production that deftly illustrates the paradigms with which people address themselves and others. Frank Bonitatibus’ character developed into a backbone for the different transformations that every other character undergoes during the play. Even in his first scene, Frank is placed in direct contrast with the other characters because of his sense of open-mindedness and spiritual awareness. The metamorphoses that Joyce, Phyllis, and Jarred all encounter incorporate an element of “Frankness”; they all move away from their intensely severe attitudes and interactions toward something that is less rigid and more tolerant.

    Joyce’s transformation is probably the most apparent. Through her introduction to Frank and his lifestyle, which is starkly different from her family life, and her emotional and physical preparation for her nude photographs, Joyce experiences liberation. She is freed from her physical self-consciousness and from the oppressive labels that she places on herself, “being molested”, and those that others place on her, “not an academic,” “idiot,” “imbecile.” Jarred also experiences a similar liberation from a label; his is that of retarded. While Joyce and Phyllis urge Jarred to seriously consider the possibility of having a social disability, he struggles with how acceptance of this label as disabled will alter the ways that he relates and interacts with other people and how he is perceived. Jarred looks to Frank for support and guidance with this and for advice on how to relate to women in a romantic way. Although Jarred is unsuccessful with his romantic endeavors, Frank does help him relate to the women in his family. Phyllis experiences a unique transformation as well. While she copes with Frank’s illogical and unscientific ideology permeating the members of her family, she must evolve. By the end of the play, Phyllis has had a taste of freedom from her need to assess and control the people and situations that surround her.

    During the discussion, one of the contributors said something very insightful, “We don’t exist without the gaze.” I think this is really important to consider in light of the events that the characters in the play experienced. “The gaze” does not have to be from a man, or even from a person other than ourselves. Jarred exemplified the way a harmful self-image can torment a person.. Around all of the themes present in Body Awareness, it is clear that the students of Shirley State are not the only people in the play that need a check in with their own body awareness.

  5. After seeing Annie Baker’s Body Awareness, I was left with one major unanswered question: what truly is the identity of each character? For me, the most intriguing aspect of the play was the way Baker left open for interpretation each character’s real identity. Each character was developed throughout the performance, and yet, even at the end of the play, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to think about Frank, Jared, Phyllis, or Joyce.

    By not defining whether Jared had Asperger’s Syndrome, by not showing the audience Frank’s photographs, and by not explicitly explaining Joyce’s childhood, the audience was forced to interpret each character’s identity for themselves. Phyllis, I believe, is the character that has a more distinct role, as she was the one that created tension and conflicts between the rest of the characters.

    Delving further into this idea of identity, I found one of the pivotal moments of the play to be when Jared tells Phyllis about his being fired from his job, later explaining that he purposefully got himself fired by exclaiming that another worker was a “retard.” For me, this scene further brought into question Jared’s identity and whether he really had Asperger’s Syndrome. I believe that Baker must have been aware of the ongoing debate in American culture about the over-diagnosis of children with mental disabilities, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome, and so I believe Baker brilliantly explored this controversy, leaving Jared’s diagnosis up to the viewer.

    I also enjoyed how the audience was never shown Frank’s photographs. Art is all about the viewer’s experience, and so to attempt to make a judgment about Frank, without having seen his photographs, was an interesting dilemma created by Baker. I thought Michael Kramer played this role wonderfully, as he left us wondering if his art was simply beautiful, as Joyce saw it, or borderline pornographic, as Phyllis believed.

    This play had me thinking more about identity and “body awareness” than any other performance I’ve seen. It was a memorable performance for many reasons, but I was really captivated by my role as an audience member in determining for myself who each character truly was.

  6. There are a variety of ways to consider the role of the artist in the play “Body Awareness”, but I believe that one of the most important functions the artist serves is to show the subject as merely being seen as opposed to being judged. The artist of the play, Frank Bonitatibus, forces the other characters, Joyce, Jared, and Phyllis, to recognize whether they are just seeing things as they are, or also judging.
    For Jared, the dynamic of seeing versus judging affects him in concern to his Asperger’s “diagnosis”. Being labeled as what Jared considered “retarded” are his mother and her partner judging him instead of just seeing him as eccentric or just “a really smart person”. For Phyllis and Joyce, the differences between seeing and judging are exemplified by their disagreement over Frank’s photographs. Joyce sees them as beautiful works of art in contrast to how Phyllis sees them as exploitative works of pornography.
    Frank forces the characters to confront each of their own struggles with seeing instead of judging. Jared’s talk with Frank prompts his encounter that makes him consider that he might have Asperger’s. The prospect of Joyce sitting for Frank makes Phyllis consider if “image ownership” and the “gaze” exist.
    In the end, the family begins to learn the importance of seeing without judging. They learn that it is possible to see something as it is and not label it. Phyllis wants to buy Frank’s portrait of Joyce, and Jared accepts that he is different. It is through Frank’s role of the artist that each character can see themselves and others without judging.

  7. “What’s the difference between being seen and being judged?” This was the staggering question that particularly resonated with me as the curtains close on the Body Awareness performance at Theater J. I chose not to read the script beforehand because I truly enjoy the element of surprise. Not knowing what to expect throughout this play experience kept me at the edge of my seat, wanting to shed a tear at some points and feeling a sense of empowerment at other points. The play truly made me realize that no matter what we may or may not attain in this life, we are all interconnected in a constant search of self- identity and comfort in our own skin.

    Socially constructed ideals of what it means to be a man/woman, what it means to be a family, what it means to be successful, or what it means to be beautiful has immensely pressured today’s society and was prevalent throughout Body Awareness. Whether or not we notice it, we immediately begin judging and labeling one other from the moment we say hello. During the play, each character wrestled with a certain ideal. Jared’s character struggled with what it means to have Asperger’s syndrome; what it means to be labeled as a “retard’ in today’s society. His role accurately reflected the power in words. While he may have known from the beginning of the play that he could have had Asperger’s syndrome, he did not want to be labeled a “retard” – a word that has a negative connotation today. Joyce’s character wrestled with the ideal of beauty and being comfortable in her own skin. It was surprising to see how judgemental her partner (Phyllis) was in the beginning of the play. Phyllis character especially brought interest to Body Awareness. While she may appear as the strongest minded, confident, and intelligent character, I perceived her as the character wrestling the most with finding her true identity. Phyllis character wrestled throughout the play with fully accepting others and their differences in opinion. She tended to view her opinions and ideals as “right”. It was impactful to see everyone reach the epiphany that sometimes in life there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. I believe Frank’s role in this play was also vital. His character presented a different, challenging, fresh outlook on things. Frank was the character that inquired the what-ifs and why-not’s in a family that seem to be set in certain ideals.
    Body Awareness was an overall amazing play that justly examined the pressures of identity and connection with others. One thing that I hope everyone can take away from the play is that “while we may have different paths, the journey is still true.”

  8. “Body Awareness” shows the personal and interpersonal issues of the four individuals, which was a mind-blowing experience for me, Jared who is accused (?) of having Asperger’s Syndrome, The lesbian parents (Joyce and Phyllis), and Frank, artist who takes pictures of naked women.

    In the beginning, I was really shocked to see how Jared starts yelling at his mother (Joyce) to convince her that he does not have Asperger’s Syndrome. Maybe because I’m a bit conservative or I’m a Korean-American, I thought Jared was being really disrespectful and thought family values were nowhere to be seen. But as the play went on, I could see the love and care between Jared and Joyce. Especially the scene, where Jared comes in soaked in the pond and saves(?) Joyce from posing for a photo.

    Also, I loved the relationship between Joyce and Phyllis. The topic of same sex relationship or marriage could be an uncomfortable topic for some audience like it did for me. But “Body Awareness” does a good job portraying the same sex relationship without any resentment. The scene towards the end, when Phyllis wanted to purchase the naked photograph of Joyce because she wanted to “accept” Joyce for who she is, really reflected on me too because I was watching the play without “accepting” the characters for who they are.

    I also thought Frank was a sleaze-ball who just wanted to take pictures of naked women for personal (?) satisfaction. But, I changed my thoughts when Frank commented, “The most important thing in Art is the audience’s viewpoint” and gave an example of Michelangelo.

    Overall, the issues and topics that “Body Awareness” plays out were little resentful for me in the beginning. But my perspective totally changed towards the end of the play with amazing scenes and quotes. Next play I see, I’ll begin to think about those social issues from the other side of the spectrum. So thank you “Body Awareness” and Theater J for giving me a life-changing experience!

    • David, Thanks for sharing so personally on how unsettling it was, at the outset, to witness Jared’s hostility towards his mother. You weren’t alone in registering this reaction. But you do a great job of appreciating the complicated, and intense emotions in that relationship, and how the play allows for a continual unfolding of new emotions and revelations.

  9. I couldn’t help but find myself on the edge of my seat during the entire production of Body Awareness. Between the witty and uncomfortable comments and the shocking scene change with the loud shutter and flash of a camera I could not allow myself to sit back and relax. Between laughing, wonder, sympathy, and more, my emotions were on high. There was a plethora of controversial and important issues that the production touched on and I feel that it is important to address some of the issues that were not discussed in depth during the Q&A after.

    Jared, the character struggling with the idea of possibly being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, did a phenomenal job. I sincerely enjoyed his character and his acting ability. Entering the production, I did not know much about Asperger’s Syndrome. However, upon leaving I felt that I gained a vast understanding of the unfortunate disorder. I think that it is very important to raise awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome because many people are being diagnosed and treated when they do not actually have the disorder. The way the play balanced the idea of whether or not Jared had Asperger’s Syndrome really addresses the seriousness of the diagnosis of the disorder.

    Additionally, I really enjoyed the set and scene changes. As a viewer, I felt the set was created so I saw multiple different set changes when there was really only one. There was the bedroom, the kitchen, the school, the art gallery and the differences in lighting allowed for the viewer to actually sense the change in scenery.

    In general, I felt that the production was very well created and executed and I am happy that I was able to be a part of the experience.

  10. I found Body Awareness to be extremely insightful and full of unexpected twists. Based off the title, I assumed the play would be focused solely on eating disorders and to my surprise the play highlighted a large variety of issues. By focusing on other topics, such as image ownership and the white male gaze, I was able to draw a larger understanding for body awareness and the many identity problems that are encompassed with that theme.

    Throughout the play I found symbolic meanings for a few key props and I believe those connections offered me an alternative understanding for the play. For example, Jared had an unusual fascination with reading the dictionary. In my opinion, a dictionary is used to provide precise, correct definitions for words or terms that are unfamiliar to an individual. But in this play every actor struggled to define what exactly is body awareness and I thought it was ironic that even though we can search for an explanation about things we are uncertain about, it is possible that there is no exact answer. Jared wanted to define his problems, or lack there of, but relying on a credible source is sometimes just not possible. The only way to truly define your problems, or yourself, is through experience and exploration.

    Overall, this play was incredible. Full of emotion and outstanding acting that really connected the audience with the script. The discussion session that followed was also very beneficial and hearing the actors’ insight to their character was a wonderful addition.

  11. I truly enjoyed watching Body Awareness last Thursday. The extraordinary performance of the actors, the smart design of the stage, the intriguing plot, the balance among characters, and the deep conversation of identity and body awareness made my first theatre experience this semester absolutely amazing.

    In the beginning of the play, the problems of the relationship among Joyce, Phyllis and Jared were presented in front of the audiences. Phyllis, as a psychology PhD, thought that Jared had Asperger’s Syndrome and needed proper treatments. Joyce, as the mother of Jared and Phyllis’s partner, tried to convince Jared to accept the treatment. However, Jared did not want to see a doctor because he did not want to accept the label of “retarded”, and at the same time, he was uncomfortable about the relationship between his mother and Phyllis. When Frank came to this family, he appeared as a potential threat to this family, but pushed everyone to look at these problems and think about them. The Asperger’s Syndrome problem was brought up when Joyce mentioned it to Frank, and Jared felt very embarrassed and angry. As the plot developed, Frank tried to help Jared, which accidentally caused Jared to choose a wrong way to deny the problem, but finally Jared was able to face it. Phyllis viewed Frank as a threat to her relationship, and disagreed with Joyce when she needed to feel attractive in a “male gaze”, but at last, Phyllis was able to understand and support Joyce. Joyce struggled to balance the relationship between her son and Phyllis and was not confident about herself because she was aging. In the end, when she received some recognition from Frank and both Jared and Phyllis gave her understanding and support, she understood more about family and inner safety.

    I especially love the quote “if we ever are to create safety in the outside world, we must first create safety for ourselves right in our own brains”. If we want to feel safe in this world, while we are being seen by other people, we need to feel safe about our identity, beliefs and image first. Among the four characters in the play, Phyllis and Frank were the two people who felt safe in their own brains, yet they stood in two completely different positions. Joyce, who was not very confident about herself, stood between Phyllis and Frank, and at last learnt a lesson to review her inner safety. Jared was not confident about himself either. However, he denied to admit it at first, but finally could be honest and true about his unsafety to other people.

    The play ended with a blinding flash to capture the last moment, the moment of love, understanding and respect. The problems might still exist, but everyone has learnt how to deal with them. Everyone’s “path is different, but the learning is just as true”.

  12. Body Awareness was, first and foremost, a pleasure to watch. Upon further reflection, the play yields much, much more. This work skillfully weaves themes of how ideology frames experience and does so through language, the subtleties of power dynamics in human relationships and interactions, the effects of the gaze and the question of intention and obscenity in art. Each of these themes is present and functions at a multiplicity of levels-from within characters, between them, between characters and the audience and within the audience member.

    The gaze-this theme is prevalent throughout the piece, however, one thing in particular left a strong impression after my experience. During the play the direct address of Phyllis transforms the Theater J audience intermittently and temporarily into the audience at the college where Phyllis is presiding over Body-Awareness week. During these segments we were temporarily taking up that role, and I was struck by how I had the desire to clap, to applaud as would be appropriate as a member of the college audience, but not as a member of the Theater J audience. No other Theater J audience members applauded, however, and so my sense of social propriety prevented me from actually following through on this impulse. The experience left an impression nonetheless.

    The relationship between ideology and language is explored at multiple levels and from how language can frame and shape our experience of art, relationships and life in general. This ranges from discussions of the violence or absurdity of using or not using “PC” language to how labels can be used to manipulate, ‘empower’, or dismiss others and their actions. Annie Baker so skillfully brings this to the audience to ponder at various times in the play as well as offers language tools to think about this—in the scene where Jared explains the difference between “descriptivism” and “prescriptivism” to Phyllis. So then it becomes an almost natural response to utilize these concepts in our understanding of the characters: Frank is a descriptivist, living primarily in a world of gray areas, Phyllis spends most of the play with a strongly prescriptivist tendency towards understanding things as either ‘Black or White’ (exploitative or empowering for example). Jared and Joyce seem to inhabit the real-life situations that render both of these concepts either useful or terribly lacking- as when Joyce pronounces in a moment of exasperation “there is definitely a right way to handle this situation, I just have no idea what it is!”.

    Body Awareness explores and utilizes humor, particularly as a mixture of language and well-timed bodily movement, as a method for addressing issues that are otherwise taboo or outside of the realm of everyday, popular discourse. The above instance was one example.

    Body Awareness—the title of this play was indeed an integral theme within it. Again Annie Baker skillfully crafted a complex picture of this multifaceted and complex issue in a true-to-life way, this theme included explorations of embodied power dynamics, the understanding of the Body-mind. The penultimate moment for this theme was again a well crafted scene in which the playwright brings forth the concept explicitly: Joyce reads an excerpt from the Phyllis’ reference book: “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom”. This beautiful quote exhorts the reader, and the audience, to take up an expanded understanding of the “body-mind”.

    The debate over what makes art and is important in art is revived and animated through the controversy over Frank’s nude photography. What is considered in this discussion of art is a series of open-ended questions. How and when does intention matter, when does it not matter, what makes something art- is it the intention of the artist, the reaction of the audience, the interplay between these, and/or the consequence of this interplay?

    Perhaps this is the most important takeaway from Body Awareness—the gentle push for reflexive questioning of beliefs, ideology, action and word-choice. This play can then become a mirror—similar to the “mirror”/self-gaze discussed by Phyllis and Joyce—for the watcher of this play to reflect upon themselves.

    These themes are all interwoven with each other and throughout the play, making for both an entertaining and thought provoking experience. Overall, this show is truly a gem–from the script to the artistry and acting that brought it to life.

  13. ‘Body Awareness’ was a great start to our group’s journey into theater; it approaches key questions, demanding definitions for such things as beauty and art. Throughout the play, the audience encounters many instances where characters disagree over perceptions. Phyllis continually implies Jared has Asperger’s, which he vehemently denies. Frank claims to have seen ghosts while in the hospital as a boy. Phyllis claims to have continual eye troubles, which nobody else can see. And- as the big conflict of the play- there is the question of whether Frank’s photographs of naked women are beautiful art or a gross display of misogyny.

    Frank’s stories represents a possible solution to the dilemma of disagreement over perception. He suggests that the ghosts he saw were real due to some emotional or spiritual truth he experienced. By accessing a faculty of perception beyond those of the five senses, Frank was able to acknowledge a new experience. On the other hand, with a more negative connotation, is the tendency of Phyllis to assess Jared with a clinical viewpoint, probing his every actions for symptoms of a medical condition that must be treated.

    So it may be said that beauty is held or, rather, found in the eye of the beholder. Yet the image of beauty that ‘Body Awareness” presents is not one of absolute relativism. Some things just don’t sit well with the characters. Phyllis cannot stand the thought of Joyce modeling before Frank. Even open-minded Frank demands Jared surrender his beloved toothbrush.

    On a side note, I was very interested in the discussion on an artist ‘possessing’ his or her subject. Before seeing this play, I made the comment that art, for the most part, was not offensive to me personally, as I saw it just as the personal expression of an artist. So long as it was not actually harming anyone, it wasn’t offensive. However, not everyone acknowledges- nor should they automatically acknowledge- an artist’s agenda or bias, letting the art speak for itself. So a very unflattering depiction of a subject- sans acknowledging the artist- might lead people to unfairly judge the subject and lead to harm.

    -John McKissick

  14. from Sean Porter:

    An observation that I made is how faith plays such a large role in Body Awareness as an undertone and, eventually, the play’s resolution. At the beginning of the play we meet the characters Joyce, Jared, and Phyllis. We find these people living in a “non-conventional” American family. The players are living in a world described in terms of logic and categorization at the very beginning of the play as seen in the ideas of Jared and his lexicography and in a brief moment during which Phyllis draws a distinction between herself and Joyce as a scholar and someone who is not a scholar. Joyce as the main character is caught between the ideas of logic and ascetics (including religion) as she meets with the artist Frank, a man who uses blunt words to make vague statements. In this sense Frank represents a life of ascetic (and/or religious) usefulness in that he does what he feels he should do, and not necessarily what is along the correct logical/moral lines. Frank is in this sense the ascetic representation of the play, and the catalyst for much of the play. He is the action.

    I found the play to be a successful experience in the description of the struggle of Joyce between her ascetic values, which are rekindled by Frank, and her responsibilities to her family and their predisposition for a sort of logic in their tones and actions that does not leave much room for growth and compromise. As an audience member I found Joyce’s journey in walking closer and closer to the lines of ascetics and Frank the most interesting part of the play. I found that the clash between logic and ascetic ideas clearly portrayed in Joyce and her actions between the other characters. As Joyce moves forward in the play the real success, I feel, is how she and Phyllis are able to make the realization at the resolution of the play that a family, traditional or otherwise, is a compromise of the values of the ascetic and of the logical. The idea of necessary, beautiful compromise is the reason I found the play so successful.

Comments are closed.