Lois Fine (left), Rhonda Tepper and Polly Clark shine in Body & Soul.
BODY & SOUL directed by Judith Thompson (Thompson and Fine). At Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to June 21. See listing. Rating: NNN
With a high school reunion on the horizon, I'm increasingly conscious of my changing reflection in the mirror. Beauty product companies exploit our fears , so I'm skeptical as I head to Body & Soul, a play commissioned by Dove in 2007. Happily, it's a production in which aging women share their qualms and joys.
This remount includes 11 of the original 13 cast members, plus one new one. Playwright Judith Thompson held workshops with these "real" women (they're not actors) and identified common themes like childhood memories, falling in love, discovering sexuality, illness and death. She avoids long monologues, preferring segments that include each woman's voice, and uses an onstage violinist to tie them together beautifully.
Unfortunately, she rarely varies the order in which the women speak, which becomes monotonous by the two-hour mark. The casting celebrates diversity of religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation but feels too deliberately hand-picked. However, the writing is always funny, poignant and honest.
During a Q&A after Sunday's performance, the cast expressed gratitude to Thompson for creating a safe environment in which to share their tales. Having your life story interpreted by her must be like getting photographed by Annie Leibowitz; in return for your trust you receive something even more expressive and beautiful.
Thompson goes even further by handing the creation back to the women, putting them onstage to deliver it in their own unique voices.
These voices form a strong collective, and audience members will find their own favourites. Mine included Rhonda Tepper, who recently received cochlear implants, and Jeannine Boucher, the funny, frank and clearly revered elder of the cast.