Jonathan J. Miner
Tensions rise as long-held grudges come out.
Sometimes there's simply no amount of good acting or design work to save a play from a weak script. Such is the unfortunate case with the Strollers Theatre production of Beautiful Bodies, a show that feels like it was written by an author with an addiction to the feel-good platitudes printed on the inside of Dove chocolate wrappers.
The action takes place in a single evening at a New York City apartment where six friends gather for a baby shower. Tensions rise as long-held grudges come out, thanks to the influence of copious amounts of wine. The women all confess to the various disappointments of their lives.
Plays with all-female casts are still sadly rare, so it's more than a little disappointing that these characterizations seem to be based largely on played-out stereotypes, and that the drama is almost entirely centered on the women's relationships with men. In fact, much of the time, Laura Shaine Cunningham's story is like a vision of the future as seen by a middle-school girl taught by society and chick flicks that petty dramas with men and backbiting are all women ever aspire to or talk about.
Much to their credit, the actors do about as much as they can with the material. Each role feels like a caricature. There's Nina (Kelly Fitzgerald), the worried-about-her-weight floozy, flaky model Lisbeth (Julie Jarvis), uptight and bitter real-estate agent Martha (Megan Olive), perpetual divorcee Sue Carol (Danielle Bormann), and carefree mom-to-be Claire (Krista Daniels). The only character not so easy to sum up is Jessie (Kristin Forde), the hostess, who is written so unevenly that her arc nearly leaves the audience with whiplash after a sudden U-turn near the end.
Olive is especially good as Martha. True, she's all high-strung judgment and pointless monologues, and you begin to wonder if she's a one note wonder -- except for a few, well-placed moments when the faade breaks subtly yet poignantly.
Fitzgerald and Forde are both natural actors as well, simply limited by the script. Jarvis has good comedic timing, but she's given little to work with in space-cadet, obsessed-with-an-ex-boyfriend Lisbeth. Bormann's struggling Southern belle actress is adorable but underutilized.
Much praise should be given to set designer Joel Stone for the detailed and realistic-feeling apartment scene. Director Erin S. Baal should also get a nod for making as much as possible out of limited material.
Ultimately, however, there's only so much the seemingly talented cast and crew can do with what is essentially a deeply flawed piece of theater.