BODY & SOUL by Judith Thompson (Dove). Runs to May 17, Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday and Wednesday 2 pm. $25. Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). 416-866-8666.
Cooptation or triumph? That's what people want to know every time a major corporation steps in and does something explicitly feminist and that's what everyone was asking me last Saturday night at the opening of the Body & Soul show at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
Answer: triumph, definitely.
Body & Soul is the brainchild of the Dove corporation, that same company that's launched its Real Beauty campaign featuring advertisements with models whose faces look as if they have actually lived.
For Body & Soul, Dove hired playwright Judith Thompson to work with non-professional performers and develop a play about the experiences of real women. The women were selected through a rigorous audition process until there were 13 diverse characters left. Thompson listened to their stories, workshopped the piece and it’s playing through May 17 to sold-out houses.
The soulful show mines stories of struggle and empowerment in moving ways. There was not a single mention of the name Dove throughout the evening, even during the introduction and, it seems, no attempt to manipulate the content to reflect any predisposition to beauty products.
Whenever I'm asked about beauty companies coopting feminist ideas for advertising purposes I always say that I celebrate the phenomenon. Advertisements advertise two things – the product itself and some kind of underlying value, whether it's the nuclear family, a standard of beauty, consumerism in general, sex and violence or anything else.
Given that, any time a spot advertises a feminist value alongside its product I'm not going to complain.
In this case, a company selling beauty products didn't even sell anything during the show. True, each audience member received a swag bag containing three beauty products, all of them imbued with enough perfume to make me gag. And the soap bar was pink, for heaven's sake.
So, yes, Dove wants us all to be girly girls. But taken together with the response of the opening night audience to the powerful stories of diverse women, Dove's doing the right thing.