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  • AmericanTheaterWeb Original News & Reviews

  • Use the calendar above to find ATW News & Reviews for a specific day, or use the list to the right to go to a specific review or article. The site's updated 3-4 times a day generally. For you convenience, links below will take you to ATWTopNews (a quick listing of links to some of the day's top stories) and to ATWClips (the complete digest of the day's news from ATW).

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ATW News Digest - 'Body Awareness' opens at Atlantic Stage 2

Taking Stock with 'Body Awareness' (AmericanTheaterWeb)

A Household’s Wounds Are Raw, but No One Is Willing to Ease the Tensions (New York Times)
JoBeth Williams’s lovely performance is among the chief enticements of this low-key, engaging new comedy.

Stunning 'Body' of work (New York Daily News)
Beyond its mundane title, "Body Awareness" is a comedy that's fantastically fresh and satisfying - and comes with two bonuses. The Atlantic Theater Company production, which opened last night, also marks a pair of exciting Off-Broadway debuts.

The son never rises (New York Post)
Of all the recent quirky characters in quirky plays, Jared (Jonathan Clem), the 21-year-old at the center of Annie Baker's "Body Awareness," is the quirkiest. Super smart but unable to function in any social situation, he's obsessed with the Oxford English Dictionary, sucks on a toothbrush when he's anxious and is...

'Body' gets workout with little results (Star-Ledger)
For all of its considerable wind-up, "Body Awareness" ultimately doesn't pay off with satisfying drama.

'Body Awareness' stirs up awareness of one's body (Associated Press)

Body Awareness reviewed by Leonard Jacobs (Back Stage)
One never knows whether a bit of staging is the director's idea or the performer's, but you get the sense that Kohlhaas recognizes her cast's wonderful self-possession.

Review: Body Awareness (Variety)
There's a sly clue in Walt Spangler's set design that suggests how the world of "Body Awareness" is going to fall apart. Playwright Annie Baker, making her Off Broadway debut, drops a liberated lesbian couple in Vermont, gives them socially aware jobs, and fills their fridge with organic grape juice and vegetarian soup. But in their boho-tasteful kitchen, the cabinets are twice as tall as they are. Even if they tried, they couldn't reach the top shelves, and they have similar trouble living up to their ultra-lefty standards.

Review: Body Awareness (TheaterMania)
Annie Baker's thoughtful comedy shows the kind of smiling humanity that ought to be endemic to playwriting.

Review: Body Awarenes (Talkin' Broadway)
Go ahead, tell yourself that self-image is no laughing matter. Then just try to explain why you’re cracking up about nude photography, the lumpy landscape of the male form, and lesbianism. And, for good measure, toss in that eternal comic gem Asperger syndrome. Don’t you care about others? Have you no shame? . . .

ATW Review: Taking Stock with 'Body Awareness'

The elements of Annie Baker's Body Awareness sound as if they might be the fodder for a made-for-TV movie. The play focuses on a lesbian couple in Vermont who must confront not only the fact that an adult child stilling living at home might be suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, but also dealing with strains on their relationship brought on by the presence of a straight man, who's visiting the college where one of the women works. Mercifully, and delightfully, Baker takes these elements and spins a play that is both riveting and consistently surprising. "Awareness" eschews easy answers, preferring instead to allow this quartet of characters to maneuver through a world of heightened, yet very real, emotions and wonderful ambiguities.


>Mary McCann and JoBeth Williams in Body Awareness. Photo by Doug Hamilton

The couple, Phyllis (Mary McCann) and Joyce (JoBeth Williams), has been together for three years. Phyllis teaches at Shirley State College, where she has been instrumental in arranging the guest artists and programs for the institution's celebration of "Body Awareness Week" – the more P.C. take that the college is putting on "National Eating Disorder Awareness Week." In addition to forums and symposia, the faculty has invited artists from around the world to help the students and themselves "check in" with their "own bodies, and then with our thoughts and judgments about other people's bodies." One of the visiting artists is Frank (Peter Friedman), a photographer who travels the country taking pictures of naked women (of all ages). His work he says is a way in which the subjects can reclaim their bodies and celebrate themselves. Frank's work appalls Phyllis and intrigues high school teacher Joyce, who contemplates posing for him, much to her partner's chagrin.

Even as the women navigate the impact that Joyce's decision has on their relationship, they're also trying to get Joyce's son, Jared (Jonathan Clem) into therapy to help him deal with his antisocial behavior and burgeoning addiction to online porn. During the course of "Awareness," Frank's presence at the school, and in Joyce and Phyllis' home where he's staying, has an effect on Jared as well: he turns to Frank for much-needed advice about women and dating.

Spanning just five days (the week of the "Body Awareness" celebration at the school), Baker's play investigates a host of image-related issues, that are not restricted to physicality. During the course of the play, religious identity, professional credibility and psychological soundness are all explored gracefully and subtlety.


JoBeth Williams and Peter Friedman in Body Awareness. Photo by Doug Hamilton

Under the sensitive direction of Karen Kohlhaas, who sees to it that "Awareness" unfolds with a leisurely pace that almost makes one feel as if they have retreated to the mountains of Vermont, the four-person ensemble turn in performances of nuance and heartfelt emotion. Williams imbues Joyce with a wonderful mix of maternal concern, gentle mid-life neuroses, and gentle yearning. Friedman's turn as Frank is remarkable for its subdued coarseness that makes it almost impossible to glean whether Phyllis' concerns about the prurience of Frank's work might be well-founded. As Phyllis, McCann delivers a performance of intelligence that's mixed with flightiness and flakiness as well as deeply felt insecurity. Clem's terrifically understated performance as Jared, his off-Broadway debut, proves to be exceptionally compelling.

"Body Awareness" unfolds with ease on a unit set from Walt Spangler that telescopes two stories of Phyllis and Joyce's home beautifully and indicates the rustic environs that surround the house and the college. Jason Lyons' lighting design bathes the piece in a sort of warm glow that matches the genuine affection that Baker has for her characters and the hopeful, but never cloying or contrived, resolution she gives to the play.

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Body Awareness plays at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm; with matinees Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $45.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or by visiting www.ticketcentral.com. Further information is available online at www.atlantictheater.org

ATW News Digest - Musical 'Saved' opens off-B'way - read the reviews

Musical review: 'Saved' (Bergen Record)

'Saved' needs an intervention (Star-Ledger)
"Grey Gardens" and "Sunday in the Park with George" are among impressive musicals developed by Playwrights Horizons over the years. Still, not every fresh work forged at this company is ready (or suitable) to transfer from its 42nd Street atelier to Broadway.

Good Cast Can't Redeem 'Saved' (Hartford Courant)

When a Baby Bump Does More Than Rock the Boat (New York Sun)

Pop-rock musical's a keeper (New York Post)
It may be playing on 42nd Street in the middle of godless New York City, but "Saved" - the new musical set at a Christian high...

'Saved' cast can't salvage musical (New York Daily News)
"Saved," the Playwrights Horizons musical, is based on a 2004 film about a Christian high school where holy rollers are hypocrites, the star athlete is gay and Jesus makes house-calls. Tangy stuff - at least it was when it was on the big screen.

At School, Sin’s a-Poppin’ and Cherubs Are Singing (New York Times)
The movie “Saved,” about Christian youth struggling with issues of faith and identity, has been adapted into a bland, innocuous musical.

Praise Jesus, Pass the Condoms -- `Saved' Aims for Broadway: Jeremy Gerard (Bloomberg.com)
Smoothly staged, impeccably cast and ferociously inoffensive, ``Saved'' clearly has Broadway in its sights, and I suppose Broadway could do worse.

Review: Saved (Variety)
In press materials, Playwrights Horizons is careful to point out that the title of the 2004 indie movie that served as source material for its latest premiere bears an exclamation mark, but the title of the musical, "Saved," does not. That choice is representative of the more serious-minded approach taken by the show's creative team. Equal time is given to cheeky satire of evangelical Christian high-schoolers facing major dilemmas and to more soulful exploration of issues concerning faith, acceptance and nonjudgmental love. But despite its many disarming elements, divine intervention is needed if "Saved" is to deliver the uplifting experience it now provides only in fits and starts.

Saved reviewed by Andy Propst (Back Stage)
Though amiable and occasionally moving, Saved is more often than not a frustrating affair.

'Saved' is a modest, mild-mannered little musical (Associated Press)

Review: Saved (TheaterMania)
A pitch-perfect cast, led by Celia Keenan-Bolger, makes the most of this surprisingly earnest tuner based on the satiric film about life in a Christian high school.

Review: Saved (Talkin' Broadway)
An unfamiliar substance is bursting like a geyser from the Playwrights Horizons building on 42nd Street. It's viscous, messy, and unquestionably addictive, even if it hasn't yet adhered itself to the inhabitants of most theaters on the Main Stem. And it has an odd, yet strangely lilting, name: personality...

Review: Saved (CurtainUp)

Review: Saved (Financial Times)
This musical’s producers have taken a risk of biblical proportions: they have plopped their efforts in the lap of a demographic filled with nonbelievers, writes Brendan Lemon

GayFest NYC Winds Down with Romance and Comedy

Where does the time go? I can't believe that the second annual GayFest NYC is almost over. So far, David Brendan-Hope's Edward the King and Brian Dykstra's Spill the Wine have been part of the festival's mainstage series, while The Wrath of Aphrodite, by Tim O'Leary, has been offered as a studio production.

This week, and next, you'll find the last two offerings of GayFest, which takes place at TBG Arts Center (312 West 36th Street). First off, on the mainstage, there's Philip Gerson's Jumping Blind. This one, according to press materials, asks the question "What if you had to choose between country and love?" Gerson's play is set during World War II, and centers on an English resistance fighter and a wounded German soldier who fall in love in occupied France. The play's is inspired by a true story and will play June 4 through 14.

Starting up on Friday, June 6 and continuing through the 15th, will be Steve Hayes' Hollywood Reunion. This one's an autobiographical comedy about the author's Christmas visit to Hollywood to cheer up an old friend. Obsessed with old movies all his life, Steve convinces his friend to forsake a traditional Christmas celebration for what he calls a "Hollywood Babylon Homosexual Holiday." In the hope of connecting to a world that his fantasies have thrived on, he drags his friend to an assortment of landmarks, cemeteries and meetings with some living legends who were part of Hollywood's “Golden Age.”

I'll be catching these two shows late in the week while ruing the fact that I missed the Festival's first three offerings. For more information, visit: www.gayfestnyc.com

ATW News Digest - reasons to be pretty opens off-B'way - read the reviews

'reasons to be pretty' compels (ATW Review)

Not with a bang, but a puerile monologue (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Nice guys finish last. Fat girls finish laster. Nice fat guys finish lastest. So we learn from the Neil LaBute trilogy, starting with The Shape of Things, continuing with Fat Pig, and concluding with this MCC Theatre world premiere of reasons to be pretty. Amusing, insightful, and slimy - the LaBute usual - this newest installment charting the desperate and vile misunderstandings between the sexes is also disappointing, despite some terrific acting.

Review: reasons to be pretty (Bergen Record)

Judging from appearances (Star-Ledger)
Guys, ever wreck a nice relationship with a woman by making a stupid remark?

'Reasons To Be Pretty' (Hartford Courant)
Neil Labute's play explodes instantly with a fusillade of obscene invective that would make David Mamet blanch. The attacks come from the incensed Steph, filled with righteous fury by the excellent Alison Pill.

First impressions last in 'pretty' (New York Journal News)
"reasons to be pretty" demands to be seen. Neil LaBute continues to have an unsparing view of the human condition in which hell, as Sartre famously said, is other people.

Neil LaBute Finds Reasons To Be Nice (New York Sun)

It's pretty appealing (New York Post)
Neil LaBute continues to explore our obses sion with physical appearance and the way it wreaks havoc with personal relationships in "reasons to be pretty," the comic drama that opened last night. But unlike the provocative plays that preceded it - "Fat Pig," "The Shape of Things" - this one cuts thrillingly deep...

A 'Pretty' intense play (amNY)
Just as the Fringe Festival takes place in August and Richard Foreman's avant-garde spectacles start in January, the premiere of the latest Neil LaBute drama every June at the Lucille Lortel Theatre has become a new tradition in downtown theatergoing.

The good, bad & ugly, LaBute style (New York Daily News)
Beauty is more than skin deep, but you don't have to dig for the message of "reasons to be pretty," Neil LaBute's play having its world premiere at the Lucille Lortel.

Listen, You Brat, to Plain Truths About the Beauty Myth (New York Times)
Neil LaBute, the harsh and unforgiving chronicler of men’s darkest impulses, is making nice in his surprising new play.

Neil LaBute's Latest Provocation Whacks Ugly Girlfriend: Jeremy Gerard (Bloomberg.com)
We aren't privy to the conversation that sparked the events in Neil LaBute's latest stage provocation, but apparently it took place in a suburban garage and went something like this: ...

Review: reasons to be pretty (Variety)
Being made to feel uncomfortable or even repulsed by the behavior of men comes as no surprise in a Neil LaBute play, but being moved by his male characters is more unexpected. In "Fat Pig," the writer's ability to make his audience empathize with the protagonist's crippling cowardice yielded uncharacteristic emotional rewards. In "Reasons to Be Pretty," which completes a trilogy of four-character plays about the unhealthy obsession with physical beauty that began with The Shape of Things," the playwright once again softens his tendency toward cold, clinical assessment with a warming dose of compassion. The result is both absorbing and affecting.

easons to be pretty reviewed by Leonard Jacobs (Back Stage)
While all the characters in Reasons stab each other in the back and heart, none of it surprises or enlightens. It's finally as if LaBute is admitting that his plays demonize women and this is his way of making amends.

LaBute examines the emotional price tag of pretty (Associated Press)

Review: reasons to be pretty (TheaterMania)
Neil LaBute's latest war-between-the-sexes play is well acted but comes off as a "here we go again" enterprise.

Review: reasons to be pretty (Talkin' Broadway)
The ability of certain words to crumble mountains or command armies is well documented. But leave it to Neil LaBute to prove that a soft, seven-letter adjective is all that's needed to turn a boy into a man. . . .

Review: 'reasons to be pretty' (CurtainUp)