AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Claire Chafee
Directed by Katie Pearl
Presented by & at Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco / (415) 441-8822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Claire Chafee creates four distinct characters in her four-woman play, "Why We Have a Body." Audiences at the Magic Theatre enjoyed the play so much in its world premiere in 1993 that it was extended for six months. Now it's back for what the Magic terms a Legacy Revival to open its 45th season.

Much of what we learn about the characters comes in monologues, starting with Mary (Maggie Mason), a mentally disturbed young woman with a penchant for robbing 7-11s at gunpoint (but not shooting). She's also fascinated, perhaps obsessed, with Joan of Arc. Next comes Lili (Lauren English), Mary's sister, a lesbian and private investigator. She's followed by Eleanor (Lorri Holt), their mother, who has gone off an expedition to the remote Yucatan. A bit later, we meet Renee (Rebecca Dines), a married paleontologist.

All four women are searching for something in their own way. Lili, the only character who has any interactions with anyone else, and then only her sister and Renee, is primarily searching for a partner. She's also hoping to connect somehow with her mother, as is Mary. Eleanor never makes the effort to connect with them even though she thinks of them often. Hence it's up to Lili and Mary to create their own sense of family. In the meantime, Renee, having met and been attracted to Lili, discovers what apparently is her true sexual identity as she leaves her husband and goes to Lili.

Although this production benefits from some strong performances, it doesn't have the impact that I recall from the1993 production. Part of this impression might result from Katie Pearl's direction, which doesn't elicit as much of the script's humor and complexities as Jayne Wenger did in the earlier edition. However, most of this impression seems to result from English's performance as Lili. She doesn't mine the depths of conflicting emotions, ranging from wonder to trepidation to amusement, that Amy Resnick found in the character. Instead, English tends toward the one-dimensional with stiff movements and restrained facial expressions. She's at her best in her scenes with Mason as her sister, Mary.

For her part, Mason is a sheer delight, mixing Mary's mental instability with some keen insights. Likewise, Dines is wholly believable as Renee begins to realize and then revel in her newfound identity as a woman who loves women. And Holt also does well as Eleanor, the mother, ruminates on her past and her relationship with her daughters.

Marsha Ginsberg's minimalist set, though rather stark, accommodates the swift segues from one setting to another in this intermissionless work. Costumes by Antonia Ford-Roberts, lighting by Sarah Sidman, and sound and composition by Obadiah Eaves enhance the production.

Even though I was a bit disappointed, this production still has much to recommend it, especially Chafee's script and the performances of Mason, Dines and Holt. English is likely to grow in her role as she overcomes what might have been opening night jitters and becomes more relaxed as Lili.

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