Theater review: ‘Why We Have A Body’ at Edgemar Center for the Arts

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‘For five decades I have struggled to say something more than ‘Where could I have put my pocketbook?’'

That line is an emblem of the epigrams of ‘Why We Have A Body,’ Claire Chafee’s surreal 1993 comedy at the Edgemar Center for the Arts.

The aforementioned quip comes from ever-exploring Eleanor (Barbara Bain), a self-delineated ‘feminist, archaeologist, historian and bilingual student of the human brain.’ But ‘Body’s’ chief focus is on her daughters.

Mary (director Tanna Frederick) is a wild-eyed head case and serial convenience store bandit who obsesses over Joan of Arc. Lili (Alex Sedrowski) is a private investigator whose romance with the married Renee (Cathy Arden) gives ‘Body’ what plot it possesses.


Because narrative isn’t what Chafee is after. Her metaphoric dissection of the postmodern, post-feminist psyche unfolds across designer Joel Daavid’s multi-tiered set in a whirl of magic realism, heady talk and quirky wit. This may be the first play in history to glean mirth from Sylvia Plath. First-time director Frederick gives the proceedings a respectably loopy staging, fit for a Berkeley coffeehouse, although the music by the live quintet at stage left occasionally enters elevator-music territory. The ever-vital Bain is always welcome company, and Sedrowski’s quiet assurance shows considerable potential.

True, Arden’s ardent comic energies are sitcom contoured, and Frederick would benefit from an outside eye to refine some muggy excesses. Still, there’s something about a play that cleaves the Sapphic brain into three sections -- ‘Memory, lust and hammering doubt’ -- while making audiences think about why they’re laughing.

-- David C. Nichols

‘Why We Have A Body,’ Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 28. $34.99 (310) 392-7327 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.