Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Island City Stage: Body Awareness (2 reviews)

Island City Stage opened its production of Annie Baker's Body Awareness at Empire Stage on March 9, 2013.
Body Awareness was the 2009 Drama Desk Award winner for Best Play. As described by Nelson Pressley of The Washington Post, “Take a Vermont lesbian couple - Joyce, a high school cultural studies teacher, and Phyllis, a feminist academic -- and their 21- year-old son, Jared, who may have Asperger’s and who trawls the naughty stuff on the Internet. Add an extremely macho visiting artist named Frank Bonitatibus who photographs nude women and girls. Combine during a consciousness-raising “Body Awareness” week on Phyllis’s progressive campus (Shirley State College). Stir gently”
Michael Leeds directed a cast that featured Merry Jo Cortada, Janet Weakley, Clay Cartland, and David R. Gordon.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Fort Lauderdale’s Island City Stage has chosen Body Awareness as its newest co-production with Empire Stage. Though the play itself veers from interesting to odd and from baffling to insightful, the production is another winning effort from Island City and Empire.
Director Michael Leeds gets fine, rich performances from Janet Weakley and Merry Jo Cortada as Joyce and Phyllis, a lesbian couple in a small Vermont college town; Clay Cartland as Joyce’s smart, testy son Jared; and David R. Gordon as Frank, a visiting photographer whose images of nude women and girls are being displayed during the college’s Body Awareness Week.
Though Cartland’s interpretive choices are limited by the way Baker defines the character, his fiery, intense Jared is one more memorable portrait in the young actor’s gallery. Cortada captures Phyllis’ inflexibility and insecurity, while Weakley makes Joyce a battle-scarred nurturer. Gordon, unsettling as Frank doles out romantic advice to
Jared, keeps the audience guessing as to whether Frank is the exploitative creep of Phyllis’ imagination or an anything-goes artist.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
This observer had trouble sussing out the cerebral depths that playwright Annie Baker intended in her quite funny meditation Body Awareness at the Island City Stage/Empire Stage production.

Fortunately, witty dialogue, intriguing performances and insightful guidance fromdirector Michael Leeds make for an entertaining evening if not a completely comprehensible or cohesive one.
But this production has elements worth seeing, starting with Baker’s real talent for snappy repartee which Leeds and his cast know how to deliver. Cortada, in particular, has a pronounced skill for firing off cutting rejoinders that will make the stoniest audience member chortle.
Similarly, Cartland’s comic timing is dead perfect as Jared’s total lack of understanding of social niceties allows him to speak harsh truths that are startling but hilarious. Cartland is wickedly accurate portraying Jared’s blithely hurtful pronouncements that barely mask his inner fear.
Weakley is adequate as the Joyce but she plays such a weak, wounded character susceptible to the whims of shallow vogues that she isn’t terribly believable. Her strongest scene comes when she is on the cusp of undressing for Frank’s camera, her discomfort both funny and touching.

Gordon, who owns the Empire Stage, fearlessly plays the self-involved artsy fathead for all he’s worth. You want to slap him sometime.
Island City Stage is to be commended, once again, for seeking out thoughtful and funny plays that mainstream theatergoers in South Florida are unfamiliar with. But even with proven talent like Leeds, Cortada and Cartland, it’s still striving to produce a thoroughly satisfying piece of theater.
Island City Stage presents Body Awareness at Empire Stage through April 7, 2013,

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