On the coast somewhere, twelve characters gather to reflect and express their experiences with love—the pain of loss, the sting of betrayal, and the joys of uniting. Inspired by an ancient story, George R. Carr's A Body Without a Head is a collection of poems adapted for the stage. The performance is a beautiful piece of expressionism dedicated to anyone who has ever lost their head to love.
Reviewed by Amy Freeman
The inspiration for George R. Carr's A Body Without a Head, a book of poetry that he has now adapted for the stage, is the ancient story of St. Torpez, who was beheaded by the Romans for converting. His body was placed in a box, which was placed into a boat and then set asea. The boat landed at a port called Heraclea. Upon opening the box, the inhabitants found the torso of Torpez to be as fresh as a living body. Seeing this miracle, the citizens also converted changed their city's name to St. Tropez.
However, beyond a prologue detailing the above story (spoken by the Earth goddess Gaia), the piece does not dwell upon the story. Upon entering the dim, blue gel-lit theater, the audience is greeted with the sound of ocean waves and led to seats by ushers carrying flashlights. After Gaia summarizes the St. Tropez story, the sound of breathing is heard, and a man swims through the audience to the stage. He climbs upon the shore and asks if anybody has ever lost their head to . . . love. Torpez is momentarily forgotten as we ponder the question put before us by a man in swim trunks and goggles.
Odds are, we all have, just like the remaining characters who, moaning, stumble to the shore/stage and flop upon it, as if shipwrecked. Their costumes are by Kevin Carrigan, at Calvin Klein, so the stage picture is very similar to an ad for ck One (which isn't a bad thing). The women are in slinky black slips and the men are shirtless in dark jeans. One would be very lucky to come in from the stormy ocean looking as polished as this cast.
The poems spoken by the cast are augmented by swirly and dreamy choreography and the continual sound of the ocean. The performance is a work of expressionism. The actors are quite good at emoting, tears drip from their eyes throughout the performance, they speak words of loss and love and injustice as though their lives depend upon it. Their movements in response to certain lines are extremely visceral, causing the audience to feel what they feel. When a character, Pollo, looks to his love, Dite, who has betrayed him, one can feel the shame as Dite refuses to look back. The characters take on the pain of St. Torpez at another point, imitating the injuries he suffered in such a way that a the heart drops and the stomach turns.
Other than their deep sense of emotion, not much information is provided on stage about who the characters are, giving them an timeless feel. We can assume that they know each other, and that they are paired off into couples. (The language is abstract and never explicitly states facts.) One character, Ares, has lost his love, Elizabeth, and now curses the country that bore him and ultimately lost him by saying "American soul. I do not know thee. I am of thee. . . But I have lost thee." Elizabeth is separated from the rest of the characters by her costume (a white dress and bridal veil) and the fact that she enters, as if called by Gaia, after the others.
A Body Without A Head is beautiful to watch. It is a performance about experience, not plot. The poems float by and what remains is the emotion of the characters, an emotion most people can relate to, though most would not have the wherewithal to express it so.
A Body Without a Head (70 Minutes)
Manhattan Theatre Source (177 MacDougal Street)
Tickets (www.theatresource.org): $18.00
Performances (through 5/2): Mon-Fri, 8PM