'Bodies They Ritual' Review: Plush Robes and Cults - Upsmag - Magazine News

‘Bodies They Ritual’ Review: Plush Robes and Cults

The tapas party had not gone over well: “The food was so tiny,” the guest of honor, Faye, recalled. “And I was so hungry.”

So for Faye’s 65th birthday, her daughter, Marie, has invited her mother and three friends for a relaxing stay at a fancy sweat lodge. The cantankerous Faye is not crazy about that, either. And that’s even before the cult members turn up.

Angela Hanks’s bittersweet new comedy, “Bodies They Ritual,” is set in Santa Fe, NM, where the five women (four are African American and one is Bengali American) have traveled from Dallas for some fancy R&R laced with New Age spirituality. There are hot stones and plush white robes, chats by the fire pit and periods of zoning out. There are also the uncomfortable revelations and colorful encounters that pop up whenever Americans’ fictional characters go on retreats (see: Bess Wohl’s play “Small Mouth Sounds,” which takes place at a silent retreat, or the book and series “Nine Perfect Strangers” ).

“Bodies They Ritual” — the third and final play in this year’s edition of the Clubbed Thumb company‘s Summerworks series — revolves around a series of meetings between the visitors and assorted locals. Naturally, the locals help excavate a few truths, but somehow there don’t seem to be any earth-shattering changes for anybody. Whatever metaphorical splinter was lodged under a character’s skin at the start is pretty much still there at the end, a constant reminder of past choices and roads taken, or not.

Marie (Ebony Marshall-Oliver), for example, prefers to keep her relationships free from romantic entanglements. Faye (Lizan Mitchell), a retired hairdresser, picks at what she sees as her daughter’s idiosyncrasies, like her taste in music as a kid, or Marie’s decision to focus on her career as the manager for a professional sports team and forgo children. While the relationship between the two women feels commonplace, Hanks adorns it with offbeat details that often materialize almost out of the blue, like Faye’s spur-of-the-moment rendition of the Sublime song “santeria

Similarly, when Faye’s friend Toni (Denise Burse) fantasizes about seeing her late husband again just so she can tell him how much she still loathes him, Hanks seeds her angry monologue with surreal specificity — “I want to hit him in the head with a candelabra.”

This technique applies to the locals, like a teenage barista (Bianca Norwood) who tells Toni that she was named for her mother’s “third favorite thrash metal band,” Sepultura. “I consider myself lucky my name isn’t Anthrax,” she tells Toni.

Best, or at least strangest of all are Queen Harvest (Emily Cass McDonnell), the Galadriel of New Mexico, and her acolytes Dawn (Kai Heath) and Turquoise Sunshine (Keilly McQuail, coming up with some strikingly kooky line readings).

Hanks, whose “Wilder Gone” was in the 2018 edition of Summerworks, has a dry, tart tone that is well served by the director Knud Adams. He wrings finely tuned performances from the excellent cast and never oversells the comedy, letting a raised eyebrow, a side glance or a throwaway line do a lot of work. This is especially effective since Hanks, to her credit, refrains from open conflicts and cathartic resolutions — Santa Fe may peddle enlightenment, but this playwright does not take the bait. Admittedly, “Bodies They Ritual” does not quite cohere into a whole, but its parts are wonderful. They may be tiny, but they add up to a full meal.

Bodies They Ritual
Through July 2 at the Wild Project, Manhattan; clubbedthumb.org. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.

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