Monday, May 2, 2016

Review: Bare Essentials

Be warned. Bodies will appear in their natural state. If you are uncomfortable with nudity on stage then stray away from Body: Anatomies of Being. For one hour and forty minutes, that’s all you’ll get. But if a discussion on the human form is something you’re interested in, blessed unrest’s latest offering may be up your alley.
Conceived and directed by Jessica Burr with text by Matt Opatrny in collaboration with the ensemble, Body: Anatomies of Being is theatrical performance art that examines beauty, skin, augmentation, deformation, and life with a backdrop of the human form. With a commentary of connection through anatomy, Body: Anatomy of Being is part movement piece, part character narratives, and part X-rated lost exhibit at Wonders of Life at EPCOT. Burr and Opatrny’s piece offers some interesting ideas. The informative portions of the show are raw, exploring fascinating themes that break down humanity to its core. But in the end, no matter what words were spoken on stage, Body: Anatomy of Being will be remembered simply because the nudity. In a sense, this play is simply indulgent. Artistic? Yes. Necessary in this form? That's debatable. You almost have to wonder if the narrative can work with a fully clothed ensemble that disrobes when completely necessary or if the creators tested the ability of doing anything they wanted by using the excuse of “performance”. There is something powerful about the use of bare body in theater when it furthers the plot or narrative. In the case of Body: Anatomy of Being, the extensive use of nudity diminished one of the most beautiful narratives. That being the story of Nadezhda, a model and cancer survivor. The romance between Nadezhda and Doctor Williams is a story that could easily be lifted for a play of it’s own. But once you see Nadezhda and learn her story, that’s when the power of body affect the audience. But when there’s a monotony of human figures, it simply loses its impact. Regardless of the use of body, the Opartrny’s text experienced a series of unfortunate events. From a character standpoint, Body: Anatomy of Being had an ensemble that resembled the Garry Marshall holiday trilogy where an ensemble cast are so loosely connected that it becomes laughable when the ties are revealed. In fact there are two characters that don’t even tie in! Together, the various concepts felt nonsensical. While they did melt into one another, the structure could easily have been moved around or eliminated to tell a similar story. Ending a play can be hard especially when trying to find the right note to end up. Body: Anatomy of Being and an exuberant amount of endings and may not have left on the right one.
photo by Alan Roche
The only way to describe this ensemble was courageous. To do what they did takes a feat of heroism. Breaking down the walls of vulnerability to share a piece they believed in is reward in itself. Some of the ensemble did a better job forming a compelling character, predominantly due to story arc. Catherine Gowl and Tatyana Kot made a case to get a spinoff for their characters Doctor Williams and Nadezdha. As Helen the anthropologist, Natalie Ivana Escobar had a Bill Nye the Science Guy demeanor during her information segments. They were tantalizing.
Playing the role of conceiver and director, Jessica Burr’s idea came into fruition. The execution was realized but it didn’t always translate properly. One of the key games Burr seemed to play was the game of disrobing. To keep the secondary characters active in the background, the actors were seen taking off or putting on their clothes. When in doubt, that was Burr’s default. While it was a safe activity, it was distracting. The other controversial directorial decision was the bringing the house lights up early on. Due to the nature of the piece, the audience was already likely uncomfortable already so to bring the nude actors directly address the audience and call attention to the situation may have been an attempt to unite but instead alienated. Visually, Body: Anatomies of Being was stunning. The simple scenic design by scribe Opatrny was comprised of a series of blank canvases. It tied into one of the plot lines as well as being a strong metaphor for the play. The lights from Jay Ryan were the most aesthetically pleasing and consistent element of the show.
There is no doubt Body: Anatomies of Being is a polarizing piece. This is not a safe production. It’s daring and provocative. It’s bound to start a conversation. It just may not be the one blessed unrest had hoped for.