New Ohio Theatre and Blessed Unrest ensemble are currently presenting “Body: Anatomies of Being” downtown in New York City’s West Village until May 21st. It is an extraordinary, affecting theatrical experience about bodies: nine of them, to be exact. They are all different sizes, shapes, ethnicities, genders and ages. When the actors, at the beginning of the show, come out and face the audience, they stand at the lip of the stage, the lights are brought up and they look at us for an uncomfortable length of time: they are entirely nude, and it is meant to be uncomfortable. How often do any of us look at real, naked bodies? How often do we instead measure ourselves against the exterior photoshopped, perfect bodies in the media? In celebrity culture?
Conceived and directed by Jessica Burr (who is also the Artistic Director of Blessed Unrest), with the text by Matt Opatrny in collaboration with the Ensemble, this show is a brilliant example of incorporating parts of the actors’ histories and personal stories to create a cohesive whole. There are various threads woven together, and the actors break into pairs, with one exception. Each pair has their own story: a love affair between a trauma surgeon and a model who survived breast cancer; a nurse who loves a middle-aged man grieving his sister’s death; a tattoo artist and the Italian fling who rediscovers him; an anthropologist and her painter husband; the same painter and his subject, the middle-aged man grieving his sister; his sister and the trauma surgeon who wants to save her, and is rebuffed.
But back to the bodies. These bodies, and this fantastic ensemble – Natalia Ivana Escobar, Catherine Gowl, Tatyana Kot, Poppy Liu, Sevrin Anne Mason, Darrell Stokes, Sonia Villani, Nathan Richard Wagner, and Joshua Wynter – are almost always in motion. They entwine, stretch, dress, undress, pose, tumble, touch. They are hardly ever at rest. The fourth wall is broken and fun facts are thrown in about the epidermis, microbes, and poop. About scent and smell and the particulars of attraction.
Blessed Unrest is described as an “experimental physical theatre ensemble” but I would also call them adventurous. Brave. There is one incredibly moving moment when one of the characters actually takes flight; and another when a man finally releases his grief and comes to terms with the past. One more, in a hospital ER, when a woman stops all motion, and lets go, finally, of her body. The body at rest.
I wish everyone could see “Body: Anatomies of Being.” I wish it toured high schools and colleges. Because by the end of this singular, 100 minute, intermission-less show, you no longer see or judge the bodies onstage; you see people. You see their souls. Ordinary bodies that are extraordinary.