No topic is taboo in KNOW Theatre’s latest production, “Body Awareness.”
The play is centered around Phyllis, a college professor, and Joyce, a high school teacher, who are a same-sex couple with a very sensitive relationship balance made all the more complex by Joyce’s son Jared, who deals with Asperger’s syndrome and with accepting his condition among other struggles in his life. Body Awareness Week on Phyllis’ campus brings a new layer of duplicity to this family as they host Frank, a photographer specializing in photos of nude women, who brings into question each family member’s conception of their body image and self-image.
Tim Gleason, the play’s director and KNOW Theatre’s artistic director, explained how the quality of the material drove him to select the play.
“My motivation for selecting ‘Body Awareness’ was simple,” Gleason wrote in an email. “Great play, great playwright. Annie Baker is exceptional.”
One of the most captivating aspects is how the complex relationships and dynamics between the characters are clearly and forcefully represented in the performances. Chris Nickerson, who plays Frank, described the atmosphere and work that the actors did to reach this level of genuineness.
“There is a great atmosphere of trust and respect for the actors,” Nickerson wrote in an email. “The time is taken to understand the characters. We spend a bit of time at the beginning to delve deep into the script before we begin staging the play. Movement is always motivated and not just movement for movement’s sake.”
Melanie Paquin, who plays Joyce, detailed how Gleason’s approach helped lead the actors to get the most out of their performances.
“For me personally it was just staying totally present, in every rehearsal and everything that our director was guiding us to,” Paquin said. “He’s like, ‘You’re on your own, it’s up to you to discover this character,’ and of course that takes time and getting to know your other co-actors and their characters and how they all intertwine.”
While much of the play is focused on these relationships, each character has their own personal moments and struggles they have to work through. For the actors, this creates another, more individual aspect of the show they needed to grasp. Paquin explained how her preparation process came from understanding the story threads and repetition.
“The preparation is really just understanding all of the stories together,” Paquin said. “I think really understanding how the other characters have evolved in their own life, where they’re at at the time of the show. Really just, for me it’s just repetition, it’s just doing it over and over again and really just starting to find your flow and your vibe, and just becoming the character.”
For Lori Gordon Wilmot, who portrayed Phyllis, working with Gleason to add a realistic dimension to the dialogue aided her prep.
“[Gleason] was very instrumental because when you are memorizing lines from a play your instinct is to just go to the next line, but sometimes we don’t talk that way in real life,” Wilmot said. “When we’re talking about something heavier, we are going to stop and kind of think for a second or two before we respond to something, and he was very good about guiding me in that way.”
“Body Awareness” challenges its audiences through how it addresses social and cultural issues of body image, mental health and trauma. Gleason spoke on the necessity of remaining honest in how these issues are portrayed.
“The challenge of a play like this is to make sure you stay honest in your presentation,” Gleason wrote. “The truth is on the page and our job is to deliver it. It doesn’t need our help.”
Paquin explained the need in depicting these issues to give audiences room to accept these issues openly.
“I think giving the audience permission to, I don’t want to say laugh at because I don’t mean it in a comedic way, but giving the audience permission to accept that everybody has something and every character has something,” Paquin wrote. “But the social issues, I was very proud to be a part of a show with same-sex relationships and, you know, genetic and mental health issues and showing how we can support and rally around individuals in our society and normalize the fact that everybody has something.”
Wilmot expressed her hopes that audiences will take away a desire to be more open in their relationships.
“I think in every family, in every relationship you have to be open to different viewpoints and different perspectives,” Wilmot said. “So I think that’s what I hope they take away, that they go, ‘Hmm, maybe I need to go home and talk to my son or my husband or my wife, because maybe I misunderstood.’”
Until Feb. 27, “Body Awareness” will continue to run performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays as well as at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Student tickets are priced at $15 with a Binghamton University ID.