The Deluxe Illustrated Body
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 3, 2005
At times it is our bodies that lead the charge towards something new, while at other times our minds will not let us linger on what we have established as routine. Still we tend to fight our bodies and minds tooth and nail because change can be so frightening. But there is one more element that stands apart from both body and mind and that is the soul. The soul most often wants something completely different. The Deluxe Illustrated Body attempts to look at change and the battle between body and soul using the metaphor of the human anatomy to illustrate this struggle. I think this metaphor would work very well if it were applied more consistently in the production.
The show opens at a funeral. Two sisters, Marti and Kate Anderson, have lost their father and, having lost their mother some time before, are now left alone with each other. Also in attendance are members of the Gerrard family, who have been close friends of the Andersons for many years. Father Matthew presides over the funeral.
Within the next couple of scenes, playwrights Lil Malinich and Jayson McDonald lay out several dramatic questions. First there’s Nathan Gerrard, a young professor of anatomy who lost his wife some time ago, and the question of why does he drink so much. Can he stop? Then there are Tom and Ann Gerrard, Nathan’s aging parents, and the question of what’s missing in their marriage. How can they reconnect? Father Matthew’s question has to do with a test of his faith and commitment to priesthood (read celibacy). Next question, will teenager Kate get over her crush on the much older Nathan? And finally, will Marti learn to forgive and move on with her life?
At this point you may be thinking, how can I follow all these dramatic questions? Is there a single question that unites them all? Indeed there is. It comes down to the purity of the soul versus the impurities of the flesh. There is a constant struggle within us (them) where the soul is pulling in one direction while the body wants other things. One will eventually win the day and change rides behind it. Marti’s soul wants to forgive but her body still feels hatred and betrayal. Nathan’s soul wants to get over the death of his wife but his body wants to keep drinking. Each character has a similar dilemma and happy resolution. This makes for a very sweet, if not somewhat neat ending.
Malinich and McDonald have written a very touching play. I cared about what happened to these characters. However, I couldn’t but feel that maybe one of them should fail to overcome his or her problems. This play is immersed real life circumstances and real life doesn’t always work out so neatly.
Also, their use of the human anatomy as a metaphor could be applied more consistently. There are only a couple of scenes where they directly address anatomy. In the program there is a list of “figures” (e.g., references to illustrations) that I didn’t realize I was supposed to follow until late in the second act when Father Matthew, addressing the audience, announces one of them. This is a singular event that could be used to more effectively demonstrate their metaphor. As it stands, their metaphor has little support in either the script or the staging.
Director Janis Powell leads our eyes all around the large stage there at Wings Theatre very well but she doesn’t lead us to see the human anatomy as a metaphor for struggle and change. There is a slide projector used to show the illustrated body but not nearly enough. There are 22 scenes, each requiring a tiresome set change that only worked to slow the pace. The set consists of large pieces of rolling furniture which begged to be left alone and have the actors simply create the illusion that they have moved to another location.
The entire cast is sincere and endearing in their own ways. There are, however, different levels of talent. Notably, Paul Rosoff creates a consistently smug and yet multi-layered Nathan. David Wesley Cooper as Father Matthew does an excellent job setting us up for a big change by establishing a character that is pushing his real feelings down. He is also very funny. But for me it is Sarah Lemp who delivers the most moving performance as Marti. She becomes realistically wrapped up in the emotion of every scene she’s in.
They say change comes from within. I’d say that a little change from within the structure of this play could make it a truly unforgettable experience.