Profiles Theatre presents
Repetitive routines, unusual preoccupation with a particular subject, inability to empathize: Asperger Syndrome? Or someone in a ‘bad place’? Profiles Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of BODY AWARENESS, a play by Annie Baker. A Vermont college is hosting Body Awareness Week on campus. Phyllis, a psychology professor, is facilitating the initiative. Phyllis and Joyce open up their home to a Body Awareness Week artist. The visiting artist is a photographer. Frank takes nude pictures of girls and women. Phyllis is repulsed. Joyce is intrigued. Joyce’s son, Jared has Asperger Syndrome. He looks to Frank for expertise on sex. Phyllis is repulsed. Joyce is intrigued. The term, ‘body awareness’, suggests a cosmetic look at life. An ‘eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep’ campaign for optimal living. This BODY AWARENESS is more like ‘self awareness’ as complex characters wrestle with identity and empathy in a ‘who am I?’ and ‘who are we?’ pivotal life moment. Going beyond the physical, BODY AWARENESS rips off the skin to expose the guts of intellectual, sexual, emotional, spiritual and instinctual decisions.
In a show anchored in tumultuous discourse, Baker provides witty dialogue for comic relief. With the excuse of Asperger, Eric Burgher (Jared) gets to deliver the humor with perfect social awkwardness and a dictionary fixation. His formal, stilted diction makes the impolite unmentionable even funnier. Cheryl Graeff (Phyllis) gives marvelous depth to her performance as the domineering, confident girlfriend in juxtaposition with the vulnerable, uneasy campus presenter. Barb Stasiw (Joyce) is believable as the overprotective and tolerant mother. As the girlfriend and potential model, Stasiw isn’t as convincing. It could have been the frumpy clothes but the sensual synergy seems lacking. Without the excuse of Asperger, Joe Jahraus (Frank) pokes the taboo with arrogant flair. Jahraus stays ambiguous between bohemian artist and sexual deviant. His character is the least defined and the best addition to a household of turmoil.
Although Director Benjamin Thiem pulls out poignant performances onstage and slightly offstage, the scene transitions get clunky with ongoing blackouts. It’s a repeated break in the movement that seems avoidable. The set designed by Thad Hallsein has the authentic feel of home. Extra details have been made to make it seem like this is permanent house remodel. I’m so comfortable I keep stretching out my legs, which is problematic for the actors. At Profiles Theatre, it’s up close and personal. Being in the front row, I continually try to channel body awareness to avoid tripping the actors.
Struggling with his own body awareness and the limitations of an Achilles’ heel, Tom says the show is “honest, intense acting.”
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
Taking advantage of the biking weather, we choose Crisp, 2940 N. Broadway. It’s a hip Korean-American fusion fast food joint. With solo seating around the parameter, three large communal tables are the staple choices. Tom goes with a Buddha Bowl, a nice helping of chicken, rice and veggies. I decide on THE FOODIE’S CHOICE CRISP, BBQ fried chicken (that’s the crisp) accompanied by bleu cheese, bacon, spinach, tomatoes and Allison’s Atomic Sauce. It’s so good that I eat past my decision to save half for lunch. Crisp’s has a plethora of pop choices including diet root beer and diet cream soda. Who does that? With Crisp efficiency, we use the time to meander down Broadway. Walking bikes on Broadway sidewalks on a Friday night, it’s total body awareness trying to hold a conversation while maneuvering past gaggles of colorful characters. Realizing its 5 minutes to curtain, we speed-bike the last few blocks.
A block away from the theatre, Bar on Buena, 910 W. Buena, is the neighborhood favorite haunt. With the summer patio and the garage doors open, it’s a great indoor-outdoor spot for a drink. Despite the crowd, we secure a table immediately. It’s noisy but manageable. The body awareness demographic runs the gamut: men/women, straight/gay, young/old. B.O.B. also serves food from its small, open kitchen in southwest corner. Tom spies tasty looking nachos but chooses not to splurge. We ask for the check and our server brings us another round. She apologizes, leaves the drinks and doesn’t charge us for them. Sometimes being in a noisy bar has advantages. We both drank to that!