Like Oleanna or Spinning into Butter, Baker’s 2008 study of a Vermont college town initially seems a piece of revenge for the stultifying power that academics wield over fledgling artists. Baker, whose more recent plays have justly won her acclaim and an Obie in New York, creates lesbian psychology professor Phyllis (Graeff), who gushes over the puppet-theater troupe and multicultural singers visiting for her campus’s Body Awareness Week, but can’t stomach on principle the work of white male photographer Frank (Jahraus). What distinguishes Body Awareness from its more schematic predecessors is Baker’s wealth of empathy for her troubled, fallible characters.
Those characters talk incessantly about empathy, but they fuck up the practice. Phyllis informs partner Joyce (Stasiw), a high-school teacher, that real academics have Ph.D.s. In a woefully misguided fatherly talk about sex, Frank advises Joyce’s son Jared (Burgher), a lexicography-obsessed loner who may have Asperger’s, to “eat them out before you try intercourse.” Still, they keep trying to connect. Throughout, Baker’s touch remains both daring and marvelously subtle, suggesting layers of personal history in a few deft strokes.
Profiles gives the play a characteristically athletic production. If anything, it’s too single-minded: Thiem could allow more stillness for the audience to consider the complexity of such moments as Joyce’s veiled allusions to childhood abuse or her awkward photo session with Frank. While Burgher and Graeff slightly overplay their characters’ bottled rage, Stasiw is a perfectly wonderful Joyce, torn and possessed of a mysterious strength.