Civic's 'Body' has lots of heart
"Why We Have A Body" is one of the most remarkable, disarming and memorable stage productions this summer in the Lehigh Valley region.
The drama-comedy, in its Lehigh Valley debut, continues for only three more performances, Aug, 24 - 26, in the annual SummerStage series in Civic Theatre of Allentown's Theatre 514.
The subject material, which lobby signs warn is for mature audiences only, will not be to everyone's taste.
Qualms about the avant-garde theater work will probably be eased by the powerful performances of the four female leads directed with sensitivity, grace and understanding by Will Morris, Civic Technical Director.
Morris has gotten raw, in-depth and believable performances in a mostly direct-to-audience, monologue-driven work where only one of the characters appears in scenes opposite each of two of the other characters.
The bare-bones set in the black-box theater is given a reality by a few well-chosen and placed props, moody spotlights and superb music selected by the director and rendered appropriately by sound designer Helena Confer.
Casey Hansen Conan is serious, thoughtful and blunt in her portrayal of the lead, Lili, a lesbian.
Jillian Lovejoy is coquettish and plays hard to forget as Renee, whose marital difficulties lead her into the counseling and consoling arms of Lili.
Aubrie Therrien is dynamic, vulnerable, wide-eyed and gymnastically expressive sometimes seemingly all at once as Mary, a gun-toting, one-woman small-crime wave and Lili's sister.
Patricia Welle is sympathetically somber as Mary, mother of Lili and Mary.
"Why We Have a Body" is a play where the characters' issues have issues. What makes the work compelling, in addition to the performances, is playwright Claire Chafee's trenchant dialogue, life-lesson observations and relationship insights.
Chafee is somewhat fearless in her skewing of stereotypes. At times, the play has the sense of sketch comedy, as in the "Lesbian brain" scene. Witty dialogue turns the stereotypes on their, ahem, ears.
The playwright also places pop culture icons under her theatrical magnifying glass, often with out-loud laughter results, as with, for instance, Miss Jane, the Drysdales' secretary, in "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV show.
While we're busy recovering from Chafee's zany humor, she leaves us breathless with the play's often eloquent insights: "Failure: It makes everything clear."
"Why We Have A Body" seems to tell us that we have one as a home for our heart, that most precious of organs that can be so much more if we let it be.