The four plays that make up Stories of the Body plumb the depths of women’s experience | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The four plays that make up Stories of the Body plumb the depths of women’s experience

A Renaissance painter, a dancer, a sex worker, and Mother Teresa explore what it means to be female.

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Theatre Y presents the four András Visky plays that make up Stories of the Body on a set that looks like a bathroom—both a public one with urinals side by side on and a private one with a footed bathtub center stage. Designed by Luminaxis Studio, it's an ideal locale for stories that plumb the depths of female experience: intimate to the point of unfamiliarity, walled with surfaces that reflect to various degrees of opacity (mirror, glass, tile), implying exterior dirt and interior excrement, offering opportunities to expel, rinse, cleanse, submerge, all within an enclosed acoustic chamber for expression and confession that, with the urinals, never releases its subjects from the tacit menace of masculine presence. In this space, each woman—the artist Artemisia Gentileschi (Katie Sherman), the missionary nun and saint Mother Teresa (Katie Stimpson), the dancer Lina (Laurie Roberts), and the sex worker Eva (Melissa Lorraine)—has one hour to speak.

The experiences they reveal are traumatic, raw, and filled with violence. A gifted painter, Artemisia is exploited by her father and raped by a tutor, then subjected to torture when she dares to testify on her own behalf at the rapist's trial. Mother Teresa experiences divine inspiration as torment, first the acute agony of voices that compel her to care for the poor and sick, then the worse pain of silence, an absence that abandons her to the fate of the most neglected on earth. Lina discovers that a disabling accident may disfigure her but will not release her from the scrutiny of men. And Eva's fate is harrowing because it's so prosaic: abandonment, poverty, physical abuse, substance abuse, every attempt at escape foiled by the particular human evil cultivated by a scarcity of money, love, and imagination. The pieces work together to pose provocative and distressing questions: Can art and religion ever be compensation for a world that only delivers pain? Is Eva's desire for mortal happiness any less admirable than Mother Teresa's desire for heavenly love? "Nothing matters. Only the soul, which doesn't exist," says Artemisia. "There are no fathers, only pimps," says Eva. "Dance? What does that actually mean?," asks Lina.

Under the direction of Andrej Visky, the playwright's son, and Theatre Y cofounder and artistic director Melissa Lorraine, each performer works her way under your skin, especially Stimpson, whose astonishing embodiment of a Teresa subjected to visions and possessed with ungodly fire is both viscerally disturbing and utterly enthralling to behold. Sherman's Artemisia is her cerebral counterpart, eyes blazing with disgust and righteous fury as she recognizes the injustice of her circumstances and, nevertheless, persists. Roberts's contralto voice grounds a Lina set adrift in a confusing universe of puppets and apparitions. Perhaps it is unfair that a man gets to say what the soul is—here, Caravaggio (Eric K. Roberts) offers the answer—"movement and moment"—as he floats through a play not about him.   v

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