Magic Theatre‘s current presentation of Claire Chaffee‘s “Why We Have A Body”, directed by Katie Pearl, is a revival of a play that was a big hit at the Magic in 1993, “the comedy that rocked San Francisco.” It’s an all-woman production, written and directed by women, the four roles are women, most of the crew are women. Estrogen all over the place.
It is an evening of good acting and good writing. Each woman takes turns addressing the audience with a short monologue, and eventually the women are interacting. The scene shifts are very quick; this is theater stripped down to a bare bones and intelligent dimension. It feels spontaneous and never boring. The set is just a plain floor: Set Designer Marsha Ginsberg, perhaps carrying the concept a bit too far, has utilized nothing but the bones of the building itself.
Lily (Lauren English) works as a private investigator and is a lesbian. Her sister Mary (Maggie Mason) is a neurotic fast-talking mental case who is obsessed with Joan of Arc and likes to hold up 7/11 stores (though not in a mean way). Their mother Eleanor (Lori Holt) is somewhere off in a tropical country pretending to be an archaeologist. Then there is Renee (Rebecca Dines), a paleontologist, which is a sexy profession for a woman according to Mary (speaking of bare bones theater). Renee is recently separated from her husband and Lily falls in love with her on an airplane. There is much ado about the difficulties of being a lesbian, an “outsider”, including a short lecture on the lesbian brain (with chart and pointer) which apparently has an extra section for “hammering doubts”. It reminds me of the old line about lesbian weddings, where there are three involved: the two women and their counselor. Then there is Marlene Dietrich’s line: “Women make better lovers, but you can’t live with them.”
There is an undercurrent here of the dysfunctional family. Mary makes the point of feeling like she’s in a family that is coming apart, at loose ends, all the more so with her mother wandering in the tropics and not responding to Mary’s telepathic faxes. It’s like the family is missing an anchor in the form of a father (Eleanor’s husband, perhaps?), but there’s no mention of him, and there is nothing in the play that suggests men are worth much. If anything, the anchor is found in their own bodies, hence the title.
“Why We Have A Body” will play through this coming weekend. It is well worth seeing.
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“Why We Have A Body” by Claire Chaffee. Director: Katie Pearl. Assoc. Director: Jessica Holt. Stage Manager: Angela Nostrand. Set Design: Marsha Ginsberg. Costume Design: Antonia Ford-Roberts. Lighting Design: Sarah Sidman. Sound Design: Obadiah Eaves.
Renee: Rebecca Dines. Lilli: Lauren English. Eleanor: Lori Holt. Mary: Maggie Mason.