Looking for Eve Ensler

The Body Politic

By Erik Johnke
Directed by Donna Jean Fogel
Watchbird Productions
Manhattan Theatre Source
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Sometimes reviewing Off-Off-Broadway can be a chore. No one in commercial theatre gets to hit a home run every time at bat, and producing at a lower (financial) level is even harder, so Off-Off-Broadway reviews are frequently mixed -- there are more 1s than 2s in the box scores (and sometimes a smattering of 0s). But when a production takes huge risks and wins, on an apparent budget fueled more by guts and wit than money, it shoots an electric charge into the reviewer's spine that makes all the other evenings worthwhile. The hardest part of the review is writing the headline.

The Body Politic comprises 11 sketches about, and featuring, body parts -- heads, breasts, pecs, abs, the stomach, and, of course, the penis and vagina. Also known as Peanuts and Virginia. Oh, and the body of Christ.

"What's in a Name" is a consciousness-raising group devoted to penises (penes?): John's Penis, Frank's Penis, Dave's Penis ... who are discussing how they can improve their own sense of well-being as well as their image in the world. The piece recurs at the end of the show, when they agree that certain euphemisms would make better PR vehicles than the slang words in current usage -- so asking for a blowjob would be more acceptable couched in terms like, "suck my John Wayne," or "suck my Hemingway." They decide that they should be called Penile-Americans.

Peanuts and Virginia are a penis (Tony Hamilton) and vagina (Bekka Lindström) that meet early in life when two babies are playing together. They meet again several times, only once having intercourse (a hilarious scene in itself). Later in life when they meet, it develops that Peanuts is no longer available for sex because his owner became a priest. They remain the best of friends, though, eventually dying together in a Florida rest home.

"Monster" is a dialog among a head (Lindström), two breasts (Diane Landers and Julia Ryan), and the Monster (Betty McKinley), which lives somewhere in the vagina and, according to the head at any rate, feeds on young boys -- the juvenile spirits that inhabit grown men's penises. The breasts are dumb young things that repeatedly simper, "It's lovely to receive so much attention." In the course of the sketch, it develops that the real monster may lie in the head.

In "The Body of Christ," the feet (Ryan and McKinley) and hands (Landers and Eric Axen) of Christ (Adrian Bethea) on the Cross talk about their glory days -- raising the dead, healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, and -- especially for the feet -- walking on water. A Centurion (Rod Brogan) comes over and hammers large wooden nails into the mouths of the feet and hands, but they keep talking. Eventually they seek solace in the thought that they will be reconstituted through the miracle of transubstantiation in the Mass, and, using the wooden spikes as microphones, turn the Crucifixion into a cabaret act.

The costumes crudely if humorously suggested the various body parts. The set consisted of a few risers, covered in beige woolly material, and two upstage doors that revolved; one side of each door was an exploded view of a man or a woman (set, costume, and graphic design by Lindström). The lighting (Tyler Littman) mainly distinguished the various areas assigned to each sketch. Music and sound (Giovanna Scarlata) were musical numbers and occasional appropriate sound effects, like peristalsis.

No one could claim that the acting offered much depth, but then the "characters" were hardly Chekhovian. But they were well-defined (even the six penises) and offered a wealth of human characteristics, from bluster to pathos. The evening was directed with brio. Ultimately, the whole company must take a bow for having the sheer balls to come up with this concept and bring it to the stage.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton