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BWW Reviews: BODY AWARENESS - A Stirring and Beautiful Portrait of Intimately Intense Humanity


Stark Naked Theatre Company, happily producing in their new home at Studio 101, is continuing to bring taut, intense, and intimate dramas to Houston audiences. Providing the Regional Premieres of both the play and playwright, Stark Naked Theatre Company's production of BODY AWARENESS by Annie Baker is an exciting and captivating examination of familial dysfunction and how destructive and liberating the self-objectification and exploitation of the human body can be.

Philip Lehl, Co-founder of Stark Naked Theatre Company, expertly directs the drama by magnificently blending the tension with healthy doses of humor. No scene drags in the 90 minute, intermission-free play. Likewise, the underscored and lit scene changes allow the audience further glimpses into the routines and lives of the characters, which ultimately aids in keeping the momentum running throughout the show. Under Philip Lehl's direction, the story unfolds in consistently thought-provoking and mesmerizing scenes; however, the last few seconds of the play are so stunningly beautiful that it leaves the audience with a resounding emotional resonance that sticks with them for hours afterwards.

Both Kim Tobin's Joyce and Pamela Vogel's Phyllis are fantastically strong and emotionally vulnerable. The actresses bring wonderful depth and life into these women, exposing with tangible clarity every aspect in which the couple is alike. Yet, it is where they are dissimilar-where they are perfect foils to each other-that each actress shines in their ability to craft fully realized human beings that the audience cares for and empathizes with. Both Kim Tobin and Pamela Vogel expertly craft characters that sincerely affect the audience, moving them emotionally and intellectually.

Playing Jared, who may have Asperger's Syndrome and is Joyce's son, Matt Lents delivers an impressively believable performance. Having spent years teaching social skills to adolescent children diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism, I was blown away at how convincingly Matt Lents portrays the disability and how, as an artist, he conveys Annie Baker's superb writing of the familial conflict that the disability creates in the modern and functionally dysfunctional home.

Drake Simpson, portraying Frank, is strikingly dubious, even though the character may not truly intend to be. He masterfully plays a flirtatious character that distresses the relationship between Joyce and Phyllis by filling Phyllis with jealousy. As the catalyst for the intellectual and emotional rifts that occur in the play, Drake Simpson delivers a polished and complete illustration of an artist that may be a sleazeball and a creep.

Jodi Bobrovsky's Set and Prop Design for the production are immaculate and pristine. She utilizes three flats that tell of location and work well together. They are painted like a blackboard, and utilize chalk outlines to complete the images. The temporality of the look, like everything could be erased and/or changed, really works well to highlight the fleeting and dynamic trajectory that the characters themselves are on. On a miniscule level, there is wonderful attention to detail that help flesh the characters out. For example, the inclusion of a book by Michel Foucault on the downstage bookcase works well considering the title of the play and Phyllis' professional life. Moreover, both Phyllis and Joyce read Bapsi Sidhwa's The Crow Eaters and Dr. Tony Attwood's The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. These choices further implicate their intellectual tastes for feminist works and Phyllis' background in psychology.

Considering the play was set in current times, I wasn't expecting to be moved or wowed by Macy Perrone's Costume Design. However, with a delicate attention to detail, Macy Perrone has fantastically mirrored the bland color pattern of the set in the costuming, adding layers of depth and richness to the performances given by the actors. Most of the cast wears muted colors with a hint of something vibrant; however, Kim Tobin's free-spirited Joyce wears colorful clothing with hints of muted colors. Without a doubt, the costumes add a visual aid in the understanding of the profundity and thoroughness of the script.

Clint Allen's lighting design is mostly monochromatic, utilizing blues over any other color. Intricately, several of the instruments with blue gels have a small circle cut out of the gels, bathing the performance spaces in real, uncolored light and giving the spaces a halo of blue around them. This is effective because it is delicate and emotionally evocative on an almost subconscious level. Impressively, Clint Allen truly understands the space in Studio 101 and utilizes his lighting design to create incredible focal points and color rich washes that emphasize Annie Baker's words.

Stark Naked Theatre Company's BODY AWARENESS takes the audience on an emotional journey that speaks to the mind as much as it does the heart. As a tightly constructed play, in the intimacy of Studio 101's space it is a strikingly beautiful piece that stirs the audience in a way that is similar to David Auburn's PROOF, even though it is a wholly different piece. As an emerging voice in American Drama, hopefully Annie Baker and her works will find the same or greater successes than her contemporaries, such as David Auburn, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Tracy Letts.

BODY AWARENESS runs at Studio 101 in the Spring Street Studios through November 10, 2012. For more information and ticket, visit

All photos by Gabriella Nissen.

L to R: Drake Simpson as Frank, Matt Lents as Jared, Pamela Vogel as Phyllis, and Kim Tobin as Joyce

L to R: Drake Simpson as Frank and Kim Tobin as Joyce.

L to R: Kim Tobin as Joyce and Matt Lents as Jared.

L to R: Drake Simpson as Frank and Kim Tobin as Joyce.

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