'Bodies They Ritual' review: Plush dresses and cults

The tapas night didn’t go well: “The food was so small,” recalls guest of honor Faye. “And I was so hungry.” So, for Faye’s 65th birth...


The tapas night didn’t go well: “The food was so small,” recalls guest of honor Faye. “And I was so hungry.”

So, for Faye’s 65th birthday, her daughter, Marie, invited her mother and three friends for a relaxing stay in a chic sweat lodge. The cantankerous Faye isn’t crazy about it either. And that’s before the cult members even arrive.

Angela Hanks’ bittersweet new comedy, “Body They Ritual“, takes place in Santa Fe, NM, where the five women (four are African American and one is Bengali American) have traveled from Dallas for whimsical R&R mixed with New Age spirituality. There are hot stones and dresses plush whites, fireside chats and periods of zoning in. There are also the uncomfortable revelations and colorful encounters that crop up every time the fictional American characters retire (see: Bess Wohl’s play “Small mouth sounds“, which takes place during a silent retreat, or the book and the series “Nine perfect strangers”).

“Bodies They Ritual” – the third and final track from this year’s edition of the Thumb Bot CompanyThe Summerworks series revolves around a series of encounters between visitors and various inhabitants. Naturally, the locals help uncover a few truths, but somehow there don’t seem to be any earth-shattering changes for anyone. Whatever metaphorical sheen lodged under a character’s skin in the beginning is pretty much always there by the end, a constant reminder of past choices and roads taken or not taken.

Marie (Ebony Marshall-Oliver), for example, prefers to keep his relationships free from romantic entanglements. Faye (Lizan Mitchell), a retired hairstylist, chooses what she sees as her daughter’s idiosyncrasies, such as her fondness for music as a child, or Marie’s decision to focus on her career as a as a manager of a professional sports team and forgoing the children. While the relationship between the two women seems mundane, Hanks adorns it with offbeat details that often materialize almost out of the blue, like Faye’s impulsive rendition of the song Sublime.”Santeria.”

Likewise, when Faye’s friend Toni (Denise Burse) fantasizes about seeing her late husband again just so she can tell him how much she still hates him, Hanks sows her angry monologue with surreal specificity -” I want to hit him on the head with a candelabra.”

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

The best, or at least the weirdest of them all are Queen Harvest (Emily Cass McDonnell), New Mexico’s Galadriel and his sidekicks Dawn (Kai Heath) and Turquoise Sunshine (Keilly McQuail, delivering surprisingly wacky line readings) .

Hanks, whoseWilder gonewas in the 2018 edition of Summerworks, has a dry, tart tone well served by director Knud Adams. He wrings out the finely-tuned performances from the excellent cast and never oversells the comedy, letting a raised eyebrow, a sideways glance or a throwaway line do a lot of the work. This is especially effective since Hanks, to his credit, refrains from open conflict and cathartic resolutions — Santa Fe may peddle enlightenment, but this playwright doesn’t take the bait. Granted, “Bodies They Ritual” isn’t quite cohesive as a whole, but its parts are wonderful. They may be tiny, but they add up to a full meal.

Body They Ritual
Through July 2 at the Wild Project, Manhattan; clubbedthumb.org. Duration: 1h33.

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