East Penn Press

Friday, May 25, 2018

A 'Body' of evidence on Civic 514 stage

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 by PAUL WILLISTEIN Focus Editor in Focus

When William Morris, Civic Theatre of Allentown's Technical Director, happened upon "Why We Have A Body," he knew he'd found something special.

"It's quite unique in its structure and subject matter," says Morris, who's directing the play, which runs Aug. 17 - 26 in Civic's SummerStage series in Theatre514, 514 N. 19th St., Allentown.

"The play itself is told a lot in monologue fashion. There's fewer scenes than monologues. One character actually only communicates through monologue with the audience," Morris says.

"The way it's staged, the characters are on stage all the time and are relating to each other in some fashion," Morris says of the play, making its Lehigh Valley premiere at Civic.

It's the second season for Civic's SummerStage where "Circle Mirror Transformation" and "Last Five Years" were presented last year. This season, "Body" is the only SummerStage production. It's Morris' first time directing a SummerStage show.

"The thematic element of the SummerStage is lesser-known, edgier, more actor-driven pieces," Morris explains. "SummerStage is a chance for Civic to do something that we normally wouldn't do during our regular portion of the season."

SummerStage dovetails with Civic's film program.

"We have movies running in conjunction with the production, so the set has to be collapsible or has to move easily. So that was a consideration in designing this scenically," Morris says.

In the Civic production are Casey Conan (Lilli), Jillian Lovejoy (Renee), Aubrie Therrian (Mary) and Patricia Welle (Eleanor).

Eleanor is the mother of Mary and Lilli. Lilli is a lesbian. Jillian is on journey of self-discovery.

"This piece came into my lap kind of serendipitously and I heard her [Casey's] voice. She [Casey] was born to play Lili, the lead."

"I had been wanting to work with Casey," says Morris, who played opposite her in "Beyond the Veil," a 2005 two-person show at Civic.

Morris also "heard" Welle as Eleanor. "Everyone who's in it ['Body'] auditioned for me, but I specifically asked them."

Playwright Claire Chafee's two-act play premiered in 1993 at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. The play received four San Francisco Dramalogue Awards and the Bay Area Critic's Circle Award for original script.

"Somebody asked me about the title what does that mean? Well, we're given these bodies that are all unique. We're given this chance to live, that is unique to each person.

"It's a basic idea of why we have a body. We have a body to live. It's just a great piece about what it means to be human.

"There's also a really great idea in the piece, that none of us wants to be alone, that we want to reach out to someone, to something, to validate it.

"What's funny about it is when we want to reach out the most, we tend to hold back. When we really want something badly we get scared, and we put up the walls. It's a classic relationship scenario.

"The play itself is just hysterical. The playwright has managed to create scenarios and situations that vacillate between the real world and the not so real that we always feel connected to.

"She also manages to have these funny, funny moments that are bookended by something that's extremely poignant.

"There can be these absurd speeches. And then all of a sudden she says something that's relatable and real. And then you stop laughing and start crying."

The play is presented in conjunction with Pride in the Park, noon - 6 p.m. Aug. 19, Cedar Beach Park, Allentown.

"I also chose this play because of its LGBT themes in it. I wanted to choose something with queer themes. In the play itself, there's the exploration of a lesbian relationship. And then there's Jillian, who's struggling with her identity, as a wife and what she wants to be," Morris says.

"It's not a play about being gay," says Morris. "The main character happens to be gay. And there just happens to be stories in the play about her relationship.

"I enjoy seeing pieces where lead characters are gay and it's not about the journey of being gay. It's a fact, rather than the main definitive thing, which is what I really, really like about it [the play]."