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Review: Body Language II: Phys. Ed.

By Jane Durrell · May 29th, 2009 · Fringe

Critic's Pick

If we didn’t have Fringes we would have to invent them, because performances like Body Language II: Phys. Ed. are the natural children of this wrong-side-of-the-bed conjuncture of ideas. There’s no way conventional theater would bring about Body Language performances.

These productions don’t even play in conventional theaters. They settle into whatever’s handy and appropriate, in this case the gym at the downtown Cincinnati YWCA. In its inaugural outing at last year’s Fringe, Body Language wandered upstairs and downstairs at the old School for the Performing Arts. True Body Project recently worked with the Brooklyn Museum in New York City for an adaptation of the earlier production and another is underway in Los Angeles, so the idea has legs.

The concept is to interview people about how they view their bodies, then turn their insights into a telling pastiche that amuses and informs and hits us where we might not know we hurt.

In the current version of Body Language, they’ve gone back to high school, when bodies are presumably about at peak, and found a mass of conflicting responses. A large cast of actors and non-actors of all body types present themselves as high school students on the first day of school, welcomed by the principal (who also, we discover at the end, plays a role I will not divulge but has to do with the school mascot costume), a coach who has been downgraded to teaching sex education, a gym teacher whose whistle seldom leaves her mouth and a theater instructor who keeps a live Yorkshire terrier nestled in her bosom.

There is a corps of cheerleaders, a game of Red Rover, an excruciating/hilarious venture into West Side Story music and action and a class in sex education that suggests the students have questions the teacher doesn’t want to answer — although he probably could, as we have seen him with a student’s mother in flirty dalliance on the balcony that circles the gym half way up.

Costumes are eclectic, as in actual high school. Sneakers are preferred footwear, except for the girl in heels and the barefoot guy. The heels girl eventually goes barefoot. The students are types, not individuals, the better to deal with typical emotions. So we have the fat girl, the shy guy, the flaming gay, the “OK!” girl, the mother’s boy and others. It’s shorthand, and it works.

The ending is contagiously upbeat — after all, we’re all out of high school, aren’t we? — and includes dancing by the cast and any one in the audience who cares to join.

Performed at YWCA through June 5. See performance dates and preview here.



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