Theater Review

Body Language

A short play is long on corporeal communication

By Steve Wiecking August 6, 2009

Matthews and Marston can’t heal the pain.

I really wanted to like Boots Up Stage Company’s A Cure for Pain. Director Michael Place distinguished himself with a production of The Mistakes Madeline Made for Washington Ensemble Theatre. And I’ve been enjoying local playwright Stephanie Timm’s wit ever since the debut several years ago of her Frankenocchio, a very funny Bunraku puppet show relating the misadventures of a boy’s head in its quest to find a decapitated torso to call home.

But Timm’s body talk flatlines here. What to say about a play that ends with a monologue given by a woman’s womb? Wait: It may have been her vulva—my notes got awfully worried and sketchy after similar speeches from the brain, heart, stomach, and so on.

Cure is a 50-minute, two-person relationship drama that’s really only concerned about one of those people—a woman identified in the program as XX (Libby Matthews)—and gives dialogue to her liver just to prove it.

XX is in the process of breaking up with her lovestruck boyfriend, XY (Trevor Young Marston), who, incapable of dealing with her absence when she’s away at medical school, says things like, “I feel like my heart is being torn into bits.” (His heart, however, keeps its thoughts to itself.) XX’s internal struggle with this process results in the aforementioned sequences in which both actors break character to grab a microphone hanging from the ceiling and deliver thoughts from her wracked body as if each organ were a contemplative stand-up comic (i.e. “So…the womb gets the last word. I’m feeling a bit defensive right now…As a womb I have been misunderstood throughout the ages.”)

The lovers also enact scenes featuring two other romantic fantasy characters, Dr. Sandoval and his patient Sylbernia, whose intentionally melodramatic exchanges echo XX’s studies. XX laughs that she’s learned about outdated notions of female sexuality; Sylbernia suffers from hysteria that Sandoval treats with a pelvic massage.

All things considered, director Place does what he can. The shifts into and out of the various realities happen cleanly and have some sense of moody dramatic rhythm. But his actors are mismatched. An assertive Matthews (tramped out unflatteringly by costumer Harmony Arnold) doesn’t come across as a gal who’d ever waste her time with puppy-dog Marston’s mewling. This may be purposeful casting: He’s cute but she’s got places to go.

Timm, a promising playwright and always a quirky wordsmith, knows she’s being silly with the body stuff but for some reason ends up taking it seriously, anyway. Without giving anything away, the denouement delivers a “surprise” that explains why XX has been tracking her emotions from the inside out. The play sounds suspiciously like a gimmicky evocation of what may have been one of Timm’s own pained personal experiences. Writers, of course, use their life stories as fodder for drama all the time. Timm probably should have kept this one to herself, though. But, now that many of the organs have spoken, she may gotten it all (forgive me) out of her system.

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