Solid Performances Featured in BODY AWARENESS

by Walter Bender

Grace Gonglewski, Mary Martello, and Dustin Ingram in a scene from BODY AWARENESS running at the Wilma Theater. (Photo credit: Alexander Iziliaev)

The Wilma Theater opened their latest production, BODY AWARENESS by Annie Baker on January 11. This interesting comedy tells the story of Joyce (Mary Martello), a high school teacher who lives with her partner Phyllis (Grace Gonglewski) and son Jared (Dustin Ingram). Phyllis is a professor and one of the organizers of “Body Awareness Week” at a small college in Vermont. Phylllis and Joyce believe that Jared has Asperger’s and have given him a book on the subject, which understandably creates some tension among the family. One of the presenters for Body Awareness Week, Frank Bonitatibus (Christopher Coucill) is staying with Joyce and Phyllis as well. Frank is a photographer specializing in photos of nude women. Phyllis is unsettled by this and the tensions in the household increase when Joyce decides to pose for Frank.

The performances in this play are all first rate. Ms. Martello does a wonderful job as the family mediator, who tries to keep the peace in a household that seems constantly on the verge of a crisis. Ms. Gonglewski is beautifully condescending and at times oblivious, her Phyllis scornfully telling Joyce, “A public school teacher is not an academic.” Mr. Coucill is terrific as Frank, the laid-back free spirit who sees beauty everywhere and is not fazed by Phyllis’ occasional outbursts. Perhaps the finest performance is by Mr. Ingram, who plays Jared with the proper combination of repressed anger and frustration while bringing out his inner fears that he may indeed be “special”. His scene with Frank when he asks for dating advice, and his entrance at the photo shoot were very impressive, showing a range of emotion in the character that was wonderful to see.

Director Anne Kauffman has given the actors plenty of time to exercise their comedy chops, with a lot of hesitation and silence between lines to allow some facial reactions and body language that speaks volumes. The set is very functional, with scene changes very brisk and in the flow of the story. Area lighting was excellent, very subtly pulling the audience’s focus where it needed to be. Special mention must be made of the snow storm that appeared off and on throughout the show, with snowflakes falling outside the windows of the apartment as well as on the sunlight and college window. It was a very nice subtle reminder of location, and very well done.

The script for BODY AWARENESS is interesting, never degenerating into slapstick, yet allowing each of the performers to show their ability to bring out the humor in a non-humorous situation. There are weaknesses in the script, but they are overcome very easily by the fine performances. The language is coarse at times, the subject matter adult, and may not be for everyone’s tastes. However, the opening night audience found much to laugh about and the standing ovation at the end of the performance was a fitting tribute to the work of these fine actors.

Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Anne Kauffman
January 11-February 5, 2012
Wilma Theater
265 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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