"This play was written in three months from a wellspring of fragments and ruminations, conscious and part-conscious. I made an effort to reflect the “lesbian brain” in form as well as in content… therefore letting the plot be driven by memory, lust and hammering doubt. In doing so, however, I do not pretend to represent anyone else’s lesbian brain but my own." ~Claire Chafee
PULSE OF THE TWIN CITIES
Thursday, 11 August, 2005
Sometimes just over a week isn’t enough time to make it to everything you want to see in the Fringe, which is why we can be grateful plays like “Why We Have a Body” decide to give us another chance.
Comprised of a series of vignettes, “Why We Have a Body” looks through the memories of Lili, an overtly independent private investigator, along with the three most important women in her life: her mother, her sister and her lover.
Though gay, Lili is by far the most normal one in her family. Her mother, Eleanor, seems to have taken off with no word to tropical locales, and her sister, Mary, who has a fondness for hitting up 7-11s with a semi-automatic and a disturbing obsession with Joan of Arc.
Lili’s estranged mother is never on stage with her daughters, instead delivering pieces of her memories while her daughters’ lives go on without her. Eleanor comically retells her experience of dealing with her daughter’s homosexuality, analyzing at one point how a lesbian brain has more parts than a normal woman.
She retells how she at first blamed herself for her daughter’s homosexuality, “but then Lili said, ‘Why should you get all the credit?’”
Even with her stability and independence, Lili finds herself pursuing a married woman, wondering why she is forever doomed to be chasing the impossible.
While some plays in the Fringe may show small signs of amateurism, “Why We Have a Body” is polished and streamlined, and Claire Chafee’s script is flawless in its ability to mix razor-sharp wit with realistic drama.
Though only consisting of four actors, “Why We Have a Body” seems quite full, perhaps due to each actor’s ability to create a scene entirely on their own, and the fact that little action occurs offstage.
While the play could be called feminist, it has enough sense to laugh at itself (Mary tells Lili that she had another bout of “feminist nightmares,” in which she is visited by Virginia Woolf.) “Why We Have a Body” should be considered required viewing for any serious Fringe-goer.
“Why We Have a Body” plays through Aug. 14 at the Woman’s Club Theater.
SINGLE WHITE FRINGE GEEK (AND MOM)
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Review - Why We Have A Body
Filed under 5 Star Shows - Best I've Seen
*Last* performance - already happened, they're closed
This is sort of a strange circumstance for me, because I consider this a five star show even though it isn't perfect. The reason it's at the top of the heap is because of its beautiful script and the beautiful acting of its extremely talented cast. The reason it isn't perfect is because of the way it was staged. But ignore the staging and enjoy the beauty of the other craft on display, I say.
It's a shame that it was among the first group of Fringe shows to hold their final performances yesterday, otherwise still more people could see it. But from the good buzz around the Fringe, I know that many have. So this is a good thing, though, like all Fringe performances, ultimately short-lived.
The script has long been one of my favorites. Seeing this production was like getting reacquainted with an old friend after being too long apart. Claire Chafee's text is brimming with lovely phrasings, and more importantly, clearly drawn and engaging characters, complex relationships, and loads of humor, humanity and heart. It's probably the closest any modern script I'm familiar with comes to being absolutely perfect.
(And coming from the always potentially envious and jealous playwright who is your critic, that is high, hard-won, praise.)
The four woman cast is uniformly great. A standout among standouts is Zoe Benston, who fills out the role of Lili, private investigator, and the sane, stable center of her far-flung family of wanderers and criminals. Also, however, not the luckiest in love. The warmth and melancholy and intelligence Benston brings to the role are remarkable and a perfect fit, as if the character of Lili were created for her.
Lili's slightly less stable, definitely more criminal sister Mary is played by Stephanie Kulbeik. It's a tricky role, because you have to find a way for the audience to care about the character despite the fact that she's on the wrong side of the law, and also on the wrong side of Lili's last nerve throughout much of the show.
The phone call between these two sisters at the close of the show can only be described as both hilarious and gorgeous at the same time.
It's always good when a show leaves you wanting more time with the characters rather than less.
Ruth Kohtz as Lili's on-again, off-again lover Renee, and Debra Rich as Eleanor, Lili and Mary's physically but not emotionally distant mother, round out this fine ensemble.
My only quibble with the show, and one which the script and the cast help overcome, is the staging.
As an audience member, a blackout and scene change of any length will kill the momentum of a show for me. The beginning of Why We Have A Body is a series of short snapshots, solo speeches by the characters as they establish themselves. To have the lights go down between each of these mini-scenes while massive pieces of furniture are lugged on and off the stage, was not an auspicious way to get a show up and running.
But, as I said before, the cast and script compensate for this stop-and-start motion. Plus, the further into the story we went, the more fluid and infrequent the transitions became. As they say, if you end well, they'll forgive you just about anything.
This show ended well. I hope you got a chance to catch it. It was one of the best of the Fringe this year.
Highly recommended, but sadly closed now.
Outstanding acting brought this minimalist production to life. Both my boyfriend (who thought this was going to be a “guy-bashing” play) and I were more than pleasantly surprised. The depth of the message(s) was delivered with such humor and tact that just about everyone could to relate to these characters. Congratulations Tenth Muse Theatre.
- Jess Davis (Posted on Aug. 5)
This play was a brilliant depiction of four women and their emotional journey into finding meaning through each other. The acting was top notch, the writing was witty, and the lighting was just fantastic. The evolution of each character was brought to life and I could not help but be amazed by the depths of their transformation in just an hour. As a viewer, I was instantly brought into the character’s world and upon the shows completion my mind was filled with one powerful thought; this is not unlike the city Atlantis emerging from the sea, the bones of its kings new grown with flesh. Perfection has a name and it is “Why We Have a Body”. Congrats to everyone involved. I’ll be back for seconds.
-Greg Bro (Posted on Aug. 10)
Philosophical and Funny
This opening night performance was laugh out loud funny, and the crowd was either giggling or roaring the entire hour. It was also incredibly poigniant if you're interested in woman in general and the "issues" of womanhood.
-Damien Roethke (Posted on Aug. 4)
This is a great script brought to life by a great cast. There is nothing better than thought provoking art, be it literature, film, painting, or theater, and this play leaves you with a mind full of demanding, delightful considerations. If you're lookging for a laid back giggle piece, the premise of which is derived souly from the pun based title, this play isn't for you. If you're looking for art from lighting to lines, go see Why We Have A Body.
- JR Damien (Posted on Aug. 7)
Worth catching every word
I was spellbound during almost every word of this fascinating show. The sound system wasn't the best, so you might have to strain to catch every word, but it's well worth it. Stephanie Kulbeik is especially enchanting as a lovable criminal obsessed with Joan of Arc.
-Nichola Torbett (Posted on Aug. 12)
I went to this show kicking and screaming, my girlfriend dragging me the entire way. I was very surprised. I guess I think of myself as something of a macho guy who wouldn't be interested in a play "all" about women and lesbians, but I'm a big enough guy to admit when I'm wrong. This show was very thought provoking and very funny, and I may have laughed hardest of all. Stephanie Kulbeik played a top notch comedic role like a pro, and the nuance of her performance was far more funny than her lines. Debra Rich, always in the background but draped in artistic lighting that defined the show, had some great monologues that piece the show together in interesting ways, so much so I might go see it again for second revelations. Ruth Kohtz was downright believable as a straight woman turned lesbian and her make out scenes with Zoe Benston (an awesome actress with incredible timing) were just plain HOT HOT HOT. All in all, a top pick for any fringe goer.
-Bill Marshall(Posted on Aug. 5)
I went to see this show because I had seen a previous production of this same play over a decade ago when I was in college - something I attributed to inspiring in me the courage to come out - and that production oh so many years ago, despite its effect on me, was only so so. This production, on the other hand, was awesome and far more funny than I remember it being. All the actresses were powerful and skilled and the kissing scenes were both tasteful and very sexy. The woman who played Mary made me laugh with everything she did and her playing was so natural it could be mistaken for dead on improv. The young woman who played Lili actually reminded me of myself as a young woman, not naive so much as having yet to dare, and she wore the conundrum very well and convincingly. I liked this play enough I'll see it again.
-Emily Knoblauch (Posted on Aug. 5)
A good day Fringing
I've been very lucky that out of four shows I've seen so far, they've all been really good and this one was no exception. From the show title and description, I admit that I was concerned that this show would fall into lesbian/feminist cliches and I ended up going to it as a "backup" choice with one of my friends. It was really well acted and the script was beautiful and the lighting design was really good. One small gripe--I appreciated the dark lighting but would have liked just a LITTLE more spotlight on the mother. She was barely visible at all from the middle of the auditorium, and while I like her as a shadowy character, could barely make out her form. Really good job though! Thanks.
-Fluffy Singler (Posted on Aug. 6)
I Want to Be the Mystery
Hats off to this fine ensemble cast. These great actors stayed in character through the noisiest of distractions. There was cheering coming from a wedding reception in another nook of the Woman's Club. There was an audience member's cell phone that kept ringing for what seemed like a few minutes. Then the offending cell phone beeped when it received the message. Then the old couple in front of me decided to start feasting on wrapped hard candy. And some patron a few rows behind me had an episode doing what sounded like an experiment crushing an empty plastic water bottle into a bag of Dorito's. After I put these unfortunate distractions aside, I truly enjoyed this play. I enjoyed the chemistry between the new lovers, but I had wanted the make-out scenes to be bonfire hot. They were just pizza pocket hot. Comparisons aside, I really enjoyed the characterizations and the teamwork involved in this truly entertaining ensemble performance. The program features my favorite, most-striking image in the Fringe. Try to catch the show when there isn't a rowdy wedding reception going on in the next room.
-Michael Shaeffer: (Posted on Aug. 7)
Now I Know
Very nice show. Strong acting, particularly from Zoe Benston and Stephanie Kulbeik -- although Ms. Kulbeik was a bit soft at times, and I couldn't hear everything. Congratulations to director Amanda Sterling for her light hand on the helm, she eschewed a heavy-handed message in favor of letting the story speak for itself. I will admit my own bias in favor of more or less traditional theater, which this was. Well done Tenth Muse. (Wait - the tenth muse? Which one was that?)
-Carney Gray (Posted on Aug. 6)
“Why We Have a Body” is primarily a story about two sisters and what motivates them through life. Zoe Benston and Stephanie Kulbeik put in strong performances as the two sisters. The other two characters (a lover and the sisters’ mother) do not add much to the play. The well-developed primary characters and engaging interaction between the sisters make this a decent choice during the Fringe blitzkrieg of shows.
-Nuke Fool: (Posted on Aug. 11)
With the right audience...
this presentation could have grabbed an extra star. It's a fairly clever script with some insights and several laugh-out-loud funny lines. At its lowest point, the acting was competent...and each of the four female actors had some shining moments. Zoe Benston portrayed strength with just one Achilles heel. Ruth Kohtz was believable as a "straight" woman ready to jump the fence. Debra Rich only spoke from the shadows, but was clearly heard; and Stephanie Kulbeik stood out in a performance that was nearly over-the-top, but suited her character perfectly. The audience was sparse and somewhat stiff. There was no applause until the conclusion of the play. This is not a must-see for everybody, but if the topic of the lesbian mind is of interest, it's worth a notch on your punch card.
-David Dworkin (Posted on Aug. 4)