- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

If you’ve ever “gone for the burn,” believed “nothing tastes as good as being skinny” or strived for “thinner thighs in 30 days,” then “The Body Project” is for you.

The title may sound like the kind of extreme makeover touted in Self magazine, but “The Body Project” is, instead, a play staged by Horizons Theatre that provides potent food for thought about American women’s obsessions with weight and attaining flawless looks.

Think you are immune to the bombardment of messages in the media depicting physical perfection? Take a look at the slogans and images pasted all over the Warehouse Theater; you’ll be astonished how many you recognize and how many have become part of everyday speech and thought patterns.

Inspired by Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s nonfiction work “The Body Project,” the staged version, written and directed by Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas, is a series of loosely connected vignettes that delve into the body issues of seven disparate women.

All of them have deep-seated, wounding conflicts about their shapes, even the ones we would consider enviably lean — Alexis (Andrea Hatfield), the well-kept socialite who has her plastic surgeon on speed dial, and Tara (Nadia S. Pillay), who personifies the current body ideal of a buxom young woman with boyish hips and keeps this figure with bulimic purges. These days, we equate lower body weight with a life that is problem-free, as if thinness guarantees unsullied happiness, an attitude that reveals what is both wistful and deluding about body obsession.

In our fat-phobic society, we expect bigger people to be miserable. You are not surprised that good-hearted Evelyn (Rosemary Hartman), a character who is hit with a double whammy — old and plus-sized — has problems because of her size. But what shocks is the casualness of the cruelty her daughter Angela (Joyce F. Liu) inflicts on her mother in the do-gooder spirit of just trying to be helpful.

Angela’s constant comments are not motivating; instead, her behavior is boorish and abusive. It turns out that Evelyn doesn’t need another diet — she needs to grow a backbone, which she does just in time to carve out a happier life for herself.

Serena (the excellent Kathleen Gonzales) is a full-figured Latina for whom food is as much mother love as nourishment. Her love-hate relationship with her body results in her trying to do away with anything — from wearing baggy clothes to taking medication that will all but eliminate her monthly cycles — that reminds her she’s a woman. Being a woman is messy and inconvenient, she feels, and it takes a tragic event for her to make peace with her curves.

The body is not as much of a concern for Roberta (Caren Anton) and Nia (Ola Odeniran). Roberta is an actress in her 50s who doesn’t want to pretend to be in her 30s but doesn’t want to play grandma, either.

With Nia, the problem is not with her flesh but with her skin; she believes the white girl is the ideal and tries everything from colored contact lenses to pricey hair weaves to alter her ethnicity.

“The Body Project” is a sobering and sometimes lighthearted look at body hatred, and at times it suffers from the wealth of source material available.

The show, clocked at 2 hours, feels too long, especially in the second act. Some of the vignettes are more tightly written than others and show more sharpness and insight. The patchwork quality extends to the acting — which ranges from stunning to barely competent — and to the often distractingly low-tech production values.

With all of its bumps and lumps, “The Body Project” is an important piece that points up just how far we have gone in judging worth solely by looks and sex appeal.

At the end of the play, the actresses stand in a spotlight, stripped down to their underwear. What startles you is not the sight of real bodies — with sags, cellulite and scars — but how rare it is to see women portrayed in a nonsexual light. As they stand proud, defiant and sometimes tentative in the spotlight, they do not ask, “Do you think I’m sexy?” They ask only to be seen, really seen — and heard.


WHAT: “The Body Project” by Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas

WHERE: Warehouse Theater, 1021 Seventh St. NW, Washington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 13.

TICKETS: $10 to $30

PHONE: 703/578-1100


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