Joe Goode’s Body Familiar
The Magic Theatre has opened its 2003 season with the world premiere of Joe Goode’s full length “play with motion,” Body Familiar. The production runs through February 2nd. Joe Goode is one of our country’s most unique choreographers. Originally from New York where he danced both on and off Broadway, he moved to the west and founded his own company. The choreographer has changed modern dance and has moved his avant-garde troupe into the new century. Body Familiar is Mr. Goode's first attempt to write a play. The two hour drama is a combination of dance and talk.
Joe Goode’s piece is a memory play that takes place in the mind of visual artist Leonard (Liam Vincent). This young man, who is somewhat strange both mentally and sexually, sculptures animal body parts for art’s sake. He assembles the bones, organs and skins of animals into bizarre installations. In fact, when you enter the small theater where the audience sits on three sides, you are confronted with his “art.” The small set has hangings of intestines on all three sides, draped like Vienna curtains. In the center of the stage is a boom box radio playing music.
Leonard enters and pushes the play button on the radio and we hear Fred Astaire singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” It is a foreboding of what we are about to experience in the next two hours. After several bars of Mr. Astaire singing, Leonard says “enough of Fred,” and starts to tell the audience of his philosophy of life which is “awkward and bizarre,” of his friends and of his longing for the only man he ever truly loved.
Leonard's friends are also truly dysfunctional. His good friend and patron Kitty (Celia Shuman) is a socialite who married into an obscenely wealthy family. Kitty is always into the latest fads; she gets involved in one and then drops it to move on to the next. She even tried “art” as a fad by “throwing pots of different color paint at canvases” (at least that is what I got out of her conversation). In the second act, she comes out dressed like the aviatrix Amelia Earhart and is now into some sort of “flyers club.” Kitty is married to Bull (Mark Rafael Truitt) whose real name is Bob. Bull is still haunted by the memory of his dead first wife Simone. He is something of a nonentity, and there is no love between him and his second wife.
Thrown into this mix is Bull’s sister, Katherine (Elizabeth Burritt), who is near insanity because she is plagued by the ghost of their overbearing mother. She reminds me of a minor Norma Desmond as played by Glenn Close. On the sidelines, we have Ricardo (Felipe Barrueto-Cabello), who is Leonard's long lost lover and speaks with a heavy Chilean accent that is hard to understand. In the background dancing around occasionally is Simone (Marit Brook-Kothlow), the dead wife of Bull. It seems she committed suicide by drilling a small hole into the temple of her head to let out the strangest things in her mind. Needless to say, you are really seeing a cast of dysfunctional characters.
Body Familiar is a series of very quick scenes that take place in New York, Costa Rica, London and Cape Cod. Many are too quick, some sound like Mamet while others come from CBS soap operas. There are some great scenes, especially the parody of a phony cocktail party in New York when Leonard and Katherine put “on party faces.” Unfortunately, these scenes are very brief. There is also the opening scene of the second act that makes absolutely no sense, in which Felipe and Marit make like chickens pecking around. It has nothing to do with the drama, but is like a poor vaudeville skit. These two fine dancers do some very graceful movements during the production. All of their movements are very stylized, and the “sexual” movements of Liam and Felipe, which are somewhat like an S & M sex act, are very interesting.
The acting of the ensemble is very good in this production, with outstanding performances by Liam Vincent, who has one of the best theater voices in the Bay area, and Celia Schuman, who has some very good tense scenes with Bull. The movements of all of these artists are very fascinating to watch. Body Familiar is a noble experience in its attempt to blend dance and words to make a drama. However, Mr. Goode has yet to secede to be a gay Sam Shepard.
Body Familiar runs through February 2nd at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-441-8822 or visiting www.magictheatre.org. Their next production is the World Premiere of Gary Leon Hill’s 8 Bob Off which opens on February 14th.