nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
May 26, 2012
Not surprisingly, The Active Theater turns out yet another quality, thought-provoking production. Body Language, penned by Jennie Contuzzi and under the capable direction of Nathaniel Shaw, started as a workshop performance at the Midtown International Theater Festival as a long one-act, and since then, it has developed into a fascinating character study of a troubled young woman and her strange addiction.
Mary is a good-hearted but awkward young woman with a secret addiction that is facilitated by a mysterious character called Theo. As of late, Mary has tried to stay away from Theo and be a better version of herself. Her boyfriend Mike recognizes her strangeness but sees her with rose-colored glasses and wants to marry her, despite the reservations of his best friend Alan. Mary’s sister Marsha is only slightly more aware of her sister’s problems and goes to great lengths to help her incorporate some normalcy into her life by getting her boss, Harold, to hire her. Mary is a happier and healthier version of herself with Mike as the play opens but she soon succumbs to her addiction after the pressure to marry him proves too much.
We can’t help but like Mary and feel for her—but she’s dysfunctional and disturbed. It is so nice to see a character like this for a change—a young attractive woman with a very complex set of problems and serious issues connecting with people. The fascinating premise is the idea that she truly does not feel she deserves happiness and so elementally despises herself. This is anything but a romanticized disturbed damsel in distress.
This play will only work with a strong cast and Shaw has delivered with a solid ensemble and an effective leading lady. Lucy Owen as Mary is a deep and fascinating actress and succeeds in making us feel as uncomfortable as the character she is portraying. Mary is most times ready to crawl out of her own skin. I would have liked to have seen Owen do even less in the physicality of this—considering the size of the theater it was a little too much. And it is clear that Owen has the internal life to portray this without the constant moving about.
Mary Jo Mecca is excellent, and a stand-out, as Mary’s very concerned older sister Marsha. Jeb Kreager is a perfect Mike, sweet and willing to give everyone a chance. Daniel Damiano nails the role of Alan, Mike’s not too deep but caring best buddy. Christian Campbell does a spot-on job of making us want to know more about the true intentions of Theo, and Tim Barker plays Harold with just the right mix of victim and creep.
Especially worth mentioning is the sound design, mixed and created by Jacob Subotnick. It is a wonderful blend of a familiar song with increasing and decreasing degrees of chaotic noise mixed in, punctuated by jarring bangs into reality. It all at once draws you in and is unpleasant enough to make you want it to stop. It is as if the designer is letting us listen to the inside of Mary’s head. Craig Napoliello’s set is simple but resourceful, and illustrates a two-sides-of-the-same-coin idea that is apparent throughout the play.
All in all, this is a production worth seeing. It is a wonderful glimpse into the psyche of a very disturbed young woman and a fantastic opportunity to see some awesome talent doing what it does best.