What’s odd about Body: Anatomies of Being at the New Ohio Theatre, is that, as much as it wants to break the audience out of being shocked by nudity, the script doesn’t measure up. The dialogue goads the audience to be comfortable with the body and all of its functions, “Wake up. Fart. Pee. Blow nose while pooping. Burp. Yawn. Drink water. Burp. Cough. Blow nose. Pick at clogged hair follicle under right arm. Burp.” But seriously, to what end? When all the actors have plucked and trimmed their pubic hair to a landing strip, are you really that comfortable with the body? A number of challenges steer this production off purpose.
The performance incorporates modern dance with spoken vignettes, including a very long opening sequence, almost constant movement occurring behind each scene, and a long, repetitious number at the end. Given that the piece is about the body, the movement is appropriate, but for as much effort and rehearsal that must have taken place, it is evident not all the actors are dancers. Choreographed movement is at times erratic and more often distracting. Luckily, lighting director Jay Ryan has a keen eye and a swift hand to drive the focus.
Nine actors, naked except for one, come to the front of the of stage processional-style to form a single line. A Chorus Line comes to mind—“I bet you're looking at my tits.” There is shuffling, scratching, and the occasional clearing of a throat before one actor begins to speak to the audience in a chiding manner about the naked body. And so begins the first of what comes off as a series of lectures—a humanities class on how the public has been taught to be sexual consumers and yet fear nudity, or the science class on how lab mice have been trained with electroshock therapy to avoid cherry blossoms. Later the mice story is embellished further to encompass slavery, awkwardly attempting to put it at the cause of racism today.
The script of Body breaks the fourth wall, pulling focus from multiple story lines in the script, not just for the audience, but, it appears, for those who had a hand in writing it. It is a stumbling block to caring about any of the nine characters. The performance was conceived and directed by Jessica Burr, artistic director of Blessed Unrest. Matt Opatrny, in collaboration with the ensemble, wrote the text. There were few moments where the story lines have closure and some even weave together; however, for the most part it plays as a series of vignettes tied together with a great deal of movement.
Two stories and their characters stand out—Chloe (Sevrin Anne Mason) for her unflinching discussion of body weight and acceptance, hers and others, and Nadezhda (Tatyana Kot) as a Chernobyl and double-mastectomy cancer survivor. Mason’s naked interchange with the artist’s model Martin is fresh.
Chloe: “Don’t see potential when you look at me. This is my body, and it might not change.”
Martin: “You’re beautiful.”
Chloe: “Are you surprised? To feel that for me? For this fat body.”
Martin: “No, not at all. I’m thrilled. Like I’ve just woken up. You woke me up.”
Kot’s delivery of Nadezhda’s shift from gratitude to the frankness about a growing up in a uranium mining town, where everyone has a shortened life expectancy, is unmistakable.
Nadezhda: “But, because of the 53 years they had really nice stuff, stuff that most people in the Soviet Union did not have, stuff like sweatpants from Bulgaria and sneakers from Yugoslavia, and visitors would see that stuff and say, ‘Wow, look at all that stuff you have!’ And that little girl, she would smile and stand very tall in her sweatpants and think, ‘I am so lucky,’ but her father would not smile because he knew about the 53 years. And then the meltdown at Chernobyl happened, and no one smiled anymore.” .
For so many things like these that are right about Body, there are too many more that don’t line up. It’s evident that the cast worked hard, with many moving parts and a narrative that transitions quickly from one to another. A stronger hand to cut extraneous dialogue, direction that needs to shave off the two extra endings, and even a lighter touch, giving actors time to enjoy the comedy when it lands, are just a few starting places that might help bring Body into alignment.
Body: Anatomies of Being runs through May 21 at New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher St. between Greenwich and Washington) in Manhattan. The show carries the warning “Bodies will appear in their natural state.” Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. on Sundays and at 7 p.m. Mondays. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101.