Written by Matt Opatrny in Collaboration with the Ensemble
Conceived and Directed by Jessica Burr
Presented by Blessed Unrest and IRT Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Devised Play
Runs Through 5.21.16
The New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street
by Emily Cordes on 5.7.16
Tatyana Kot in Body: Anatomies of Being. Photo by Vida Tayebati
BOTTOM LINE: Through an ongoing process of stripping and re-clothing, Blessed Unrest explores humanity’s complex relationship with our bodies.
As the show’s teaser blurb and Blessed Unrest Artistic Director Jessica Burr’s strictly-no-photos curtain speech forewarns, Body: Anatomies of Being features bodies “in their natural state,” opening with a full-frontal nude lineup and cycling its ensemble through various states of undress. By establishing this stylistic motif early on, gently-but-frankly addressing our discomfort and thus diminishing its shock value, Blessed Unrest offers up a more nuanced consideration of the human form, inviting us to explore the social, biological, and personal contexts through which we view our bodies.
With its cast members dis-and-re-robing themselves throughout, Body similarly peels away the various layers and guises of body identity to reveal the bare facts underneath. Race, and its staggering socio-cultural implications, is shown to rest on eight percent of one-tenth of a millimeter of skin cells. Our bodies’ width-to-height ratio may determine whether we are deemed conventionally attractive, while sexual desire becomes little more than a cocktail of brain chemicals and strategic blood flow. By presenting several alternate vantage points, from the mundanely functional (an individual’s by-the-minute chronicle of every burp, fart, and itch) to the keenly aesthetic (the reframing of the human form as a series of colors, shapes, and lines), the ensemble invites us to regard the body with fresh eyes. Though this process is meant to encourage objectivity, it naturally reveals our tendencies to marvel at, ruminate upon, or judge what we see, and may leave us feeling as exposed as the figures before us. Matt Opatrny’s text anticipates this potential unease, and greets it with empathy even as the performers guide us to circumvent it.
Just as the addition of clothing gives identity and context to otherwise anonymous forms, the show’s characters and stories emerge from these broad contextual backdrops. A love affair with beautiful cancer patient Nadezhda (Tatyana Kot) gives trauma surgeon Dr. Williams (Catherine Gowl) a deeper connection to the bodies she encounters; exposure to both Nadezhda’s tale of survival and the reconstructed breasts in which it concluded instills in her a newfound reverence for the individual’s healing process. Yet, this insight cannot emotionally prepare Williams for Nadezhda’s determination to revisit her childhood home in Chernobyl—or the prospect that doing so might jolt her illness out of remission.
Nude model Martin (Darrell Stokes) confronts similar issues of exposure and vulnerability as his posing for appreciative painter Francis (Nathan Richard Wagner) triggers memories of his sister Franny (Poppy Liu) and her mysterious, violent death. Through the physical and emotional support of ample-bodied nurse Chloe (Sevrin Anne Mason), Martin finds the strength to overcome his confusion and grief. Meanwhile, a familiar whiff of pheromones and a shared appreciation of body art reunites long-lost lovers Antonio (Joshua Wynter) and Soledad (Sonia Villani) as the two navigate the dicey landscapes of inherited trauma, cross-cultural relationships, and physiological self-definition.
Body’s stunning choreography inspires as much amazement and reverence as its intellectual components. Whether posed in artistic tableau, contorted in desire or pain, or rippling in mimicry of natural phenomena, the bodies of Blessed Unrest’s ensemble form arresting and often uncanny configurations, giving us further respect for the body’s abilities. Moreover, the show’s physical arrangements can be as culturally subversive as the ideologies it presents, flipping gender and size conventions as women lift men or smaller bodies suspend and support larger ones.
Literally and metaphorically, there’s a lot to take in here: any of Body’s featured concepts could easily form the basis for a separate show. Nonetheless, Blessed Unrest handles its subject matter with a surgeon’s precision and an artist’s sensitivity, embracing reverence, confusion, and discomfort alike. Effectively, by inviting us to re-envision the bodies we inhabit, Body: Anatomies of Being highlights our essential humanity, inviting us to celebrate ourselves in all our flawed glory.
(Body: Anatomies of Being plays at The New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street through May 21, 2016. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 5, and Mondays at 7. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at newohiotheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101.
Body: Anatomies of Being is written by Matt Opatrny in collaboration with Blessed Unrest ensemble, and conceived and directed by Jessica Burr. Lighting Design by Jay Ryan. Set Design by Matt Opatrny. Costume Design by Sydney Maresca. Sound Design by Beth Lake. Production Stage Manager is Darielle Shandler.
The cast is Natalia Escobar, Catherine Gowl, Tatyana Kot, Poppy Liu, Sevrin Anne Mason, Darrell Stokes, Sonia Villani, Nathan Richard Wagner, and Joshua Wynter.