BWW Review: WET's EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH a Raw Blistering Look at Body Image

BWW Review: WET's EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH a Raw Blistering Look at Body Image
Kiki Abba as Jess and Kevin Kelly as Victor in
Everything You Touch from
Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Photo credit: Jeff Carpenter

Over the years I've been to several plays that have cautionary signs in the lobby. Usually they mention cigarette use or strobe lights but more than a few I've seen talk about trigger warnings in the piece. I'd never really understood the trigger warning until last night at Washington Ensemble Theatre's production of "Everything You Touch", a show all about body image. As a big guy myself, I've dealt with this stuff all my life but there was a quite powerful moment in the show where suddenly I had all these memories of my own childhood come rushing back including things like tauntings in school or my Grandmother mailing me weight loss articles she cut out from the newspaper. I'd never had that much of a personal and visceral reaction to a play before which leads me to think that either I'm not as well-adjusted as I think I am or, the production from WET is just that good. I'm going to assume it's the latter. Yeah, that's it.

But let's move on from my own body image issues and talk about the people in the play. There're two somewhat overlapping time periods happening here that jump back and forth so it can get a bit confusing. We begin in the 70's with Victor (Kevin Kelly), an up and coming fashion designer who along with his muse Esme (Cheyenne Barton) have had their latest show filled with creations for stick-thin models. Enter Louella (Dayanna "Dayo" Vice), a midwestern woman who's won a contest to be made over by the designer but when he meets Louella he sees in her his new muse and drive to make clothes for ordinary women and not just supermodels. While all this is happening we also have Jess (Kiki Abba) a modern-day computer programmer with body issues stemming from her dying mother's constant disapproval. Jess avoids everything real in life to the point that she practically conjures up the ideal distraction for herself, Victor. The two embark on a journey to visit Jess' mother before she passes but she ends up discovering who she really is.

Director Maggie Rogers has taken Sheila Callaghan's already intense script and made sure the intensity never lets up with a cadre of thin and pretty models always on hand in nude bodysuits to act as either set pieces or Jess' own conscience. And when coupled with a superb lighting design from Tristan Roberson the power of the piece really shines through creating areas of isolation as well as salvation.

BWW Review: WET's EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH a Raw Blistering Look at Body Image
Kevin Kelly as Victor and Dayo Vice as Louella
in Everything You Touch from
Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Photo credit: Jeff Carpenter

But the true power comes from this stunning group of actors. Let's start with the models, Lindsey Crocker, Mira Marie Goins, Andrea Lowry, Gabriella O'Fallon, and Amber Tanaka, who don't say much but strut around with laser focus and when they do speak it's with devastating effect (thanks for the trigger, ladies). Then there's Mario Orallo-Molinaro as Lewis, Jess' co-worker and buddy, who provides a delightful touchstone to reality and much needed bit of comic relief. Vice has a wonderful transformation throughout the piece. She never loses her character but grows it within itself making her never a rube or victim. Barton as the spurned muse brings in a ferocity of women of that period and her final moments of the piece are riveting. And Kelly manages to present a complete womanizer and narcissist and make him empathetic solidifying why he's one of my favorite actors in town.

But then there's Kiki Abba. I've seen Ms. Abba in several plays over the years, each one showing off her tremendous strength as an actress as she bares all in every part she tackles. But here, I don't know that I've ever seen her rawer and more vulnerable not only serving as a brilliant storyteller for the piece that we can't help but follow but doing so with the intensity of a red-hot knife in your heart making Jess not only real and honest but blisteringly so. There are many reasons to see this piece but if you need just one, Abba's performance is it.

Now, Dear Readers, I've warned you about the potential triggers in the piece, but I have faith in you that you can handle them and urge you to catch this one. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Washington Ensemble Theatre's production of "Everything You Touch" a triggered but ok now YAY+. If you suffer from body issues, this is the show for you. If you don't, congratulations but maybe you catch this one and take a look at what the rest of the world is like, you beautiful creature.

"Everything You Touch" from Washington Ensemble Theatre performs at 12thAve Arts through October 8th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.washingtonensemble.org.

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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