Annie Baker tackles heavyweight and potentially sensitive subjects in “Body Awareness”, which premiered at the Aurora Theatre last Friday. The sharply written, tightly wound play manages to be at once entertaining, funny and thought-provoking, which is testament to the skills of the 28-year-old playwright.
We open with feminist professor Phyllis (Amy Resnick) on the podium addressing an imaginary, as well as the real, audience. The academic is orchestrating “Body Awareness Week” on a small Vermont college campus. She and her partner Joyce (Jeri Lynn Cohen) are hosting Frank, a guest artist (Howard Swain) who specializes in taking nude photographs of women. Also in the household is Joyce’s 21-year-old son Jared (Patrick Russell), who, the couple believe, has Asperger’s Syndrome.
The family dynamic, already troubled, reaches breaking point after the arrival of Frank who swaggers through every scene sporting a permanent Cheshire cat grin, managing to be likable and vaguely creepy at the same time.
The ensemble acting and stage timing are flawless and there are memorable scenes, not least those that take place in the women’s bedroom late at night as they try to tackle the emerging issues they are dealing with.
Russell’s portrayal of a tortured young man who may be dealing with Asperger’s is convincing. And, as the seemingly rock-steady Phyllis begins to unravel, Resnick does a fine job demonstrating the fragility of human nature faced with the unexpected.
But the play’s resolution, its apparent rush to find a happy ending, felt unsatisfactory and may provoke more than ambivalent reactions for some, particularly gay parents and those with first-hand experience of Asperger’s.
“Body Awareness”, which is directed by Joy Carlin, is a Global Age Project production, an Aurora initiative that encourages playwrights and directors to “explore life in the 21st century and beyond”.
The play runs through Sunday, March 4. For more details and tickets visit the Aurora Theatre Company’s website.
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