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Rangoon

Body Language

This new play about a psychologically troubled woman is far too contrived.

By New York City
Mary Jo Mecca and Lucy Owen
in Body Language
(© Angela Benefiel)
Mary Jo Mecca and Lucy Owen
in Body Language
(© Angela Benefiel)
In Body Language, Jennie Contuzzi's play being presented at the Workshop Theatre, the psychologically troubled Mary (Lucy Owen) continually battles her demons, while the audience confronts several problems of its own. Contuzzi certainly has good intentions as she focuses on a woman in her thirties who has no self-esteem, but in order to state her case, she practically goes as far off the deep end as her anguished protagonist does.

When the production begins, it doesn't seem to be Mary, a waitress at a trucker's diner, who's facing challenges. Construction worker Mike (Jeb Kreager) is the one weeping in the little-used women's restroom, where Mary ends up comforting him. Her ministrations result in a romantic relationship, but the course of what Contuzzi depicts as true love hardly runs smoothly. The catch is that Mary keeps hinting she has a shadowy past, but won't talk about it to marriage-proposal-inclined Mike.

The biggest hint is the arrival at the diner of Theo (Christian Campbell), who immediately demonstrates he has a mental hold over Mary as well as -- when he painfully twists her arm at a diner table -- a literal hold. Further indications of Mary's enslavement to the past are provided by Mary's sympathetic sister, Marsha (Mary Jo Mecca), a law-firm cleaning lady, and by Mike's buddy Alan (Daniel Damiano), who's suspicious of his pal's inamorata.

Contuzzi then contrives a plot where Marsha gets Mary the opportunity to apply for a proofreading job at the firm where she tidies up. When at first, Mary doesn't even arrive for the test and subsequently fails an interview with lawyer and computer-porn-obsessed Harold (Tim Barker), Marsha figures out an under-handed way to secure the position.

Not only does Marsha's ruse stretch credulity past the breaking-point, but so does Mary's continual behavior, which no one (other than the audience) notices worsening until it's made palpable towards the play's finish.

Under Nathaniel Shaw's indulgent direction, Owens doesn't downplay matters. Indeed, calling her performance mannered -- rather than bold -- only begins to describe it. To indicate how unhappy Mary is in her skin, Owens is almost constantly on the move, regularly contorting her arms. As a result, she's hard to watch. Fortunately, the other cast members, especially Mecca, offer impressively credible portrayals.

There's nothing wrong -- and plenty right -- with Contuzzi's need to present a woman devoid of all belief in herself, but one wishes she had written a better play to do so than Body Language.


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