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Beautiful Bodies takes the stage at Stephens

Actresses in Stephens College comedy explore female friendships


Audra Handschke (left), who plays Sue Carol, and Courtney Desko (right), who plays Claire rehearse their roles. The characters in the play have gathered for a baby shower for Claire.

February 16, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

On the eve of an impending snowstorm, six women in their mid-30s gather for a baby shower where a little too much wine and snarky comments from the friend no one really likes take over the evening. However, the actresses portraying these women in the comedy Beautiful Bodies are only in their early 20s, far removed from marriage problems, unsatisfactory careers, babies and heaven forbid – wrinkles.

Beautiful Bodies, a comedy by Laura Shaine Cunningham, is set in NYC’s NoHo neighborhood. Discussing their struggles with significant others (or lack thereof), relationships with food and changes in career plans, the women candidly share their feelings throughout the night.

If you go:

Where: Warehouse Theatre, Stephens College
When: Feb.15 through 18, 7:30p.m.
Cost: $8; $6 students and seniors
Call: 876-7199
Online: Stephens College

Although the title of the play might suggest a focus on the physicality of women’s bodies and the ever-present question of what is beautiful, the play focuses on the dynamics of female relationships.

“It’s not the way you would necessarily think about body image,” says Director Malia Wirtel. “It’s more about personality and the beauty of being a human being.”

Much like the women they portray on stage, the actresses have close bonds with one another that extend back many years. “Essentially, they’re like my sisters,” says Ashley Darger, who plays Jessie.

This is the first directing venture at the Warehouse Theatre for Malia Wirtel, a senior at Stephens. Wirtel says she approached the job of director by asking for respect from her peers. That respect creates genuine performances and carries through to every aspect of the show. Wirtel says each actress delivers an honest performance. “Honesty is the biggest thing because if you aren’t honest, the audience isn’t going to buy it,” Wirtel says.

Playing a disgruntled woman with big aspirations has been somewhat of a reality check for Audra Handschke, who plays struggling actress Sue Carol. Handschke is a senior theater major who plans to pursue a career in acting. “The way Sue Carol is right now is probably every actress’ nightmare,” Handschke says. “You hear stories where half the people in New York say they’re an actor, and all they do is wait tables. That’s the last thing I want to happen to me. I can definitely sympathize with her.”

In the show a character frets about her cheating husband and another plans to raise her unborn child on her own. Many of the issues in the play apply to females of all ages, married, pregnant, still worrying about pimples or otherwise. “I tried to grasp onto the things that are a little more universal in just thinking about friendships and the female bond, which is something all women can relate to no matter what your age is or what part of life you’re at,” Darger says.

As the title implies, Beautiful Bodies does manifest various self-image issues in each character. “Nina has a hang-up about her weight, and I think that is kind of on a personal level for me, because I am a full-sized woman and a lot of my friends are not,” says Lauron Thompson, who plays bold nail stylist Nina. She says the role has encouraged her to make her own definition of what a beautiful body is instead of letting society dictate what is beautiful.

“It’s definitely caused me to think about how important [it] is not to let other people’s version of [what] beauty is or what a beautiful body is to society, dictate what my version of a beautiful body is.”

This comedy doesn’t stray far from modern female performances such as those in Sex and the City, but it encourages women to recognize and keep close relationships in their lives. “Beautiful Bodies has reinforced for me to recognize what’s important,” Thompson says. “You have to appreciate the people in your life even though they might not be perfect. You have to let them be who they are, so they can let you be who you are. And I think you see that happen by the end of the show.”

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