It’s Body Awareness Week at the fictional Vermont college at the center of Annie Baker’s play “Body Awareness,” and a professor’s nontraditional household is thrown into upheaval by a visiting photographer’s female nude portraits. Looking for Lilith Theatre Company opens “Body Awareness,” a comedy about sexuality, identity and political correctness, at the University of Louisville’s Thrust Theatre this week.
Baker won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama for “The Flick,” a comedy about the employees at a down-and-out second-run movie theater that premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York last year. Looking for Lilith ensemble member Trina Fischer says even though “Body Awareness” is one of Baker’s earlier plays — it opened off-Broadway six years before her Pulitzer win — her talent and promise is evident in the script.
“It’s an amazing script in terms of the amount of things she deals with in a way that comes across with such ease. It’s hilarious and heartfelt and deep and probing without being heavy-handed,” says Fischer. “It’s very conversational, but as theatre is, it’s about extraordinary moments.”
Looking for Lilith is a feminist theatre company dedicated to examining culture from women’s perspectives, and Fischer says “Body Awareness” is a natural fit.
“It’s exploring a lot of the issues we consider very important as feminists,” she says. “It’s looking at issues of sexuality, body image, one’s own relationship with their body and other people’s bodies.”
Fischer plays Joyce, one half of the academic couple at the heart of the play, which is set in the fictional town of Shirley, Vermont, as many of Baker’s plays are. Joyce, a high school teacher, lives with her partner Phyllis (the campus organizer of Body Awareness Week, played by Teresa Willis) and Jared (Richie Goff), her adult son from a previous relationship. They host Frank (Sean Childress), a photographer whose nude portraits of women and presence in the household causes tension between the couple and their son. Kathi E.B. Ellis directs. (Note: Ellis is a freelance writer who reviews dance performance for WFPL.)
Fischer says it’s not just the women in the play who are changed by the feminist questions raised.
“As feminists, we also are interested in how men are affected by our culture and how feminism can help liberate them,” she says. “The play looks at sexuality, identity, body image, feminist critique, political correctness, all sorts of things get stirred up in this play in a way that’s not deep and heavy, but is probing and has a lot of heartwarming and hilarious moments.”
“I think Joyce and Phyllis consider themselves pretty educated and aware and communicative and they’re surprised by the things that come up between them around these issues,” Fischer adds.
The production is sponsored by the University of Louisville’s Women and Gender Studies Program and LGBT Center. “Body Awareness” opens Thursday and runs through May 17.