For their honors thesis student production, seniors Renee Xu and Solhee Bae directed and starred in the well-received play “Body Awareness,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Annie Baker. Performed in Dana Arts Center’s Brehmer Theater, the production began at 7 p.m. and ran for three days, from April 24 to 26. “Body Awareness” revolves around four central characters: a high school teacher (Joyce), a psychology professor (Phyllis), their 21-year-old son (Jared) and a female nudity photographer (Frank), portrayed respectively by Xu, Bae, seniors Christopher Fischer and Ian Remmers. Through their layered interactions with one another, heated conversations about things like mental health, sexuality, gender and political correctness arise and threaten to spill over.
The stage was fairly small, and my first thought was that it would not give the actors a lot of room to move around. While this was true, the play itself did not require lots of room – and, more importantly, the space was utilized very skillfully. For the most part, the set remained the same: from left to right, we could see a whiteboard, bed, table and kitchen. This set-up allowed the scenes to transition smoothly, from Phyllis’ announcements of guest speakers on campus to Joyce cutting a loaf of bread, preparing dinner. The constant presence of each set piece did not at all detract from the audience experience: each scene was engrossing enough that we could fully focus in and forget about unrelated surroundings. I, for one, forgot the bed was even there while engaging in the characters’ tense discussions over meals.
It can be difficult to fully occupy the stage with only four actors in total, but Xu, Bae, Fischer and Remmers rose up to the challenge quite
successfully. Each actor sensitively conveyed the nuance and complexities of their character, and even their gestures looked very natural. Xu excelled in bringing out the insecurity, firmness and unconditional love that constitute Joyce as a mother and overall human being; Bae similarly eclipsed Phyllis’ pride, vulnerability and honesty, in all of her flaws and strengths. Remmers had a slightly smaller role than his co-stars, but still managed to be a significant force: the only non-Colgate actor, he nonetheless fit in quite well and exuded a confidence that comes from experience. His character Frank remains somewhat mysterious in his intentions as a photographer, and similarly in our debate about whether we like him or not, as spectators. I was surprised to learn that this was Fischer’s first stage acting experience: his portrayal of a naive, young adult in denial of a possible diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome felt very tangible. His lines also induced the most laughs. As individuals, the cast members all shined brightly, but as a whole, they also displayed great chemistry and elevated the script far beyond its medium.
Unlike the title suggests, “Body Awareness” is about much more than just body awareness, although it is a large part of the play. It deals with a lot of issues that are still very relevant today, and comments on the ways in which we grasp for understanding and connection in our relationships. While Annie Baker undoubtedly deserves praise for her playwriting, as directors, Xu and Bae should be credited for bringing Baker’s creation to life in a wonderful way. Their hard work and talent are clearly illustrated in their product. I enjoyed almost every minute of this real, moving play and believe Xu and Bae have great things in store for them post-graduation. While it is sad to see these gifted seniors leave, it is also a comfort to know that we will perhaps see these two theater majors again in the near future, in a familiar but grander and larger-scale setting.