Directed by Emily Ranii ’07, the play is inspired by a book by Prof. Emeritus Joan Jacobs Brumberg, human development, of the same name. With humor and incredible poignancy, The Body Project initiates a much needed dialogue on body image issues by exploring how contemporary women’s negative views of their bodies can have an increasingly toxic effect on their relationships with other people.
Beginning in the youthful exuberance of girlhood, the play opens by taking us back to the playground rituals of pre-adolescence, before boys and breasts entered the scene to wreck havoc on female friendships. Seemingly filled to the brim with possibility, the girls are energetic, loud, and most of all, comfortable in their own bodies. However, with the onset of adolescence comes those all-too-familiar games of “Truth or Dare” at the weekend sleepover and the dreaded feeling of exposure in the gym locker room. The Body Project conveys the pain of puberty, which is accompanied by not only the teasing taunts and appraising looks of other girls but also by the desire to silence oneself in order to attract the male gaze.
As opposed to a dry, theoretical lecture on feminist theory, The Body Project draws the audience’s attention to the issues facing women today through the highly relatable stories of several contemporary women. Best friends as young girls, Tara (Sharisse Taylor) and Serena (Alex Viola) lose touch as Tara becomes more interested in boys than in staying friends with Serena. Both young women face self-image problems which destroy their relationship. Tara, feeling caught in the trap of simply being “pretty,” mutters to herself to “be pretty, stay pretty” because she is no longer seen as nice, funny or smart. This mantra ultimately drives Tara to develop an eating disorder, compromising her health. Serena, her less attractive friend, is full of energy but is still plagued by her body images issues, which serve as her poetic inspiration.
We are also introduced to Angela (Mary Gilliam), an exercise-obsessed lawyer whose relationship with her mother Evelyn (Sonja Lanzener) is quickly disintegrating due to Angela’s embarrassment over her mother’s weight. Angela’s rigid control of her food consumption reveals her continuous battle to achieve the supposed perfection of a slim, fat-free physique. Evelyn, a widow, is faced with her own body image issues, since she is lonely after her husband’s death and believes no one else would wish to be intimate with a woman of her size. Through the falling-out of the mother-daughter relationship, the play points to the ability of body image issues to isolate individuals and poison important relationships.
The Body Project directly addresses the issues of aging women through the characters of Roberta (Holly Duquette) and Alexis (Ariel Reid). Roberta, an actress in her 50’s, is in what her agent Nia (Amanda Idoko) describes as “the wasteland between middle age and old age.” Highlighting how the media presents images of only very young or very old women, Nia advises Roberta to work on her body in order to fit the easy categories of either somebody’s lover or grandmother. Roberta’s willingness to change her body is tied to her very livelihood. In contrast, Alexis willingly undergoes cosmetic surgery in an effort to patch up her failing marriage. Unable to keep her husband from straying, Alexis believes self-improvement through surgery is the answer.
As the women’s stories intertwine, the play reveals how these modern women share the unshakable belief that the body is an object to be altered. Pointing to the extreme diets, exercise or cosmetic surgery women subject themselves to in the pursuit of an unattainable ideal, The Body Project is strikingly thought-provoking in the terrifying instances when we see ourselves represented onstage. However, the play leaves us with a desire to embrace our bodies and see ourselves as we are: full of possibilities rather than simply the image reflected back in the mirror.
Upcoming performances of The Body Project at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts: 1/29-31, 7:30 pm; 2/1, 2 pm & 7:30 pm; 2/4-6, 7:30 pm; 2/7-8, 2:00 pm. Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 students & seniors