If you have spent the last few centuries frozen inside a glacier, Horizons Theatre has some hot news for you: Modern women have a body-image problem. Yes, that's right! The incessant barrage of media images featuring 105-pound supermodels with plump lips and huge bustlines; the ads for hair-removal products and anti-wrinkle creams; the very existence of the Olsen twins -- all of this takes a psychic toll on your typical female. And then there's the pressure to maintain a good-girl image.
And to wear high heels without breaking one's neck.
If all of this sounds a little familiar, maybe it's because people have been talking about this kind of thing at least since the days of corsets. Or else it's because you have just sat through a performance of "The Body Project," Horizons Theatre's extremely well-intentioned but tedious piece of awareness-raising theater. Written and directed by Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas, incorporating material gleaned from interviews with D.C. area women, "The Body Project" consists of paint-by-numbers anecdotes featuring characters who have little personality beyond their situations. There's the aging actress; the bulimic; the overweight girl who's shunned by her peers; the overweight mother who's shunned by her daughter; and so on. The scenarios intertwine, and by the end of 21/2 hours, many of the depicted women have gone some way toward coping with their afflictions, while accomplishing a lot of female bonding.
Putting all flippancy aside, it would be hard to overstate the seriousness of the body-image predicament for modern women; it wreaks terrible damage in terms of health and psychological well-being, and the problem shows no sign of stopping soon. However, the play brings no new ideas to the topic, and the generic nature of the plot and characters only emphasizes the air of belatedness. Unlike scholar Joan Jacobs Brumberg's thought- provoking 1997 book of the same title, billed as having "inspired" the play, the Horizons production brings no historical context to bear on the issue, and it doesn't really discuss how commercial forces -- the skin-care and feminine hygiene industries, for example -- have affected the crisis.
The play does deal with the role of the medical establishment, most memorably in Caren Anton's hilarious portrait of a bored researcher working on a new contraceptive. The other actresses also turn in fine performances -- particularly Andrea Hatfield as an aging cosmetic surgery addict, Kathleen Gonzales as a budding poet who happens to be overweight and Rosemary Hartman as a mother who wearily informs her nagging daughter, "There is no skinny person inside me trying to get out!" Not only does the cast transcend its material, it also transcends the obviousness of the stark set's prominent feature: a large mirror that reflects the audience (get it?) framed with a montage of magazine cutouts.
Admittedly, if "The Body Project" provokes useful public discussion about female self-consciousness, the effort of the creators will not have been in vain. But for a more artful take on the phenomenon, you could also just open an issue of Glamour.
The Body Project, written and directed by Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas; original songs by Roy Barber, Terri Allen and Todd Hahn; set design, Barbara Brennan; lighting design, Maja E. White; sound design, David Lamont Wilson; costume design, Valerie St. Pierre Smith. 21/2 hours. At the Warehouse Theater, 1021 Seventh St. NW, through Nov. 13. Call 703-578-1100 or visit www.horizonstheatre.org.