Arts & Events

THEATER REVIEW: 'Body Awareness' at the Aurora

By Ken Bullock
Friday February 10, 2012 - 05:14:00 PM

Body Awareness Week on campus at Shirley State college in Vermont, and the feminist professor in charge (Amy Resnick as Phyllis) bravely plunges into welcoming the audience to the festivities—while at home, her domestic partner Joyce (Jeri Lynn Cohen) is verbally scrimmaging with her post-adolescent son Jared (Patrick Russell) over his ongoing onanism, spiraling phone bills for sex calls, and her suspicions (along with Phyllis) he has Asperger's Syndrome. But Jared is having nothing of it, sniping at his mother while delving into his passion ... etymology. 

So 'Body Awareness,' Annie Baker's play that has been hailed in New York, begins onstage at the Aurora, where it won last year's Global Age Project for a full staging. From this arch, funny start, 'Body Awareness' continues to go sideways, as this fractious household opens up to take Frank (Howard Swain) in, a recorder playing, hail fellow and groovily met artist, in town for the week's celebration—to Phyillis' chagrin and Joyce's interest, a photographer who travels the country, taking nude pictures of females from infancy to advanced age and exhibiting them. 

This four-hander is expertly spun out by the excellent cast, with Joy Carlin's sharp direction, as the new menage begins to break down with suspicion and jealousy, internecine squabbles over political correctness, and Jared's insouciance. Highlights include Phyllis' decaying delivery to the Body Awareness Week audiences, a kind of negative pacing of the plot, and Frank's cheerful male advice to anxiously virginal Jared, a cornucopia of cross-eyed wisdom that spills out all over the place. 

It's a constantly amusing show, skewering "postmodern" domestic behavior while avoiding overwrought caricature. Baker's writing gives it an effortless quality, a kind of no-blame insurance that covers the hilarious verbal damage its principals seem to wreak upon each other. 

'Body Awareness' is a comedy with a satiric edge, if somewhat outdated in impact. The subject of its barbs was in full social manifestation some years ago; sitcoms now fashion running gags from this kind of material. 

Many of the newer plays seen at the Regional Rep theaters around the Bay Area—and around the country—aspire to this style, and the Aurora, through its GAP staged readings, has brought three enjoyable examples of it to its main stage: Joel Drake Johnson's 'The First Grade,' Allison Moore's 'Collapse' and now 'Body Awareness.' Of these, the first has been the one most fleshed-out as theater and social satire. 

A problem with this ubiquitous style of play is its close relationship to TV sitcoms and movies. 'The First Grade' had dense theatrical dialogue, very different from the texture of what's heard on TV or film, which satirized the social effect of sitcom patter. 'Collapse' and 'Body Awareness' are closer to being scripts for better sitcoms or TV movies, enjoyable if a little banal around the edges. Still, they're close to being at the top of their particular heap. And—like a good sitcom—provide relaxation, a fun evening. 

Tuesday through Sunday until March 4, various times, Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (near Shattuck). $30-$45. 843-4822;