‘Body’ politic

Befitting a production that condemns a simplistic view of sexuality and gender, “The Student Body” evades classification. It is both performance art and play, both historical re-creation and original narrative. Although it is sometimes more provocative than constructive, it is ambitious and thoughtful throughout. Because the movie has impressive direction and stellar acting, its faults are easily forgiven.

The 90-minute production is comprised of a dozen or so short vignettes set at Yale, dealing with homophobia, sexual liberation, walks of shame, misogyny and even prostitution. Covering so much ground so quickly leaves little room for novel or profound analysis.

The show is at its best when it stays personal. But the historical segments — treatment of nude posture photos taken of incoming Yale freshmen and exploration of the attitudes toward women before coeducation — generally fall flat. It’s the more personal scenes that resonate: two actors (Jacob Liberman ’10 and Raphael Shapiro ’12) rehearsing a romantic scene from “Twelfth Night,” a drag queen (Cory Finley ’11) leading “Sex Signals,” a frustrated stoner (Cordelia Istel ’10) trying to seduce her lesbian roommate.

This inconsistency may be due to the nature of the production and the limits of an all-student perspective. Ten student collaborators created the work, which they discussed and rehearsed throughout the semester. The play was the brainchild of Mike Liebenluft ’10, who directed it with Emily Hoffman ’10 as an independent study. The cast and crew decided to focus on issues of gender and sexuality.

The more abstract, absurdist moments of the show can feel rushed and forced at times. It’s as if the play’s creators simply didn’t want to let interesting material they dug up go to waste. With another few weeks of tweaking and honing, the production likely could have been filtered and specialized, allowing the writers to figure out exactly what they wanted to say. As it stands, the show simply says everything it can think of as quickly as possible… but maybe that’s okay.

The greatest strength of the show is the outstanding and varied performances from the five actors: Peregrine Heard ’11, Liberman, Shapiro, Istel and Finley. The five display incredible comfort and versatility, each taking full advantage of their stage time. Liberman’s turn as a desperately earnest actor performing “Twelfth Night” and Istel’s as an insensitive seductress stand out.

It’s an imbalanced and imperfect production, but the creators would likely be the first to admit that. The play does accomplish its intention — it raises issues, and it frames thoughtful questions. It’s hard not to find a little piece of yourself in every moment, regardless of your age, gender or sexuality.

The direction is unique, and its risks pay off. Nude scenes, lesbian kisses and a gender-neutral housing dance number set to a medley of Ludacris, Britney Spears and the Whiffenpoofs all feel organic and purposeful and not, well, ludicrous.

During a week in which Perez Hilton has become the spokesman for gay marriage and Susan Boyle has become a national hero for entirely misogynistic reasons, “The Student Body” is entirely refreshing due to its energetic and sincere approach to contested issues.

The show shares a double bill with Maia Karo’s ’09 senior project in Theater Studies, “Three Interrupted Sisters.” Karo’s show begins at 7 p.m. tonight, and at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday. “The Student Body” starts at 8:15 p.m. tonight and at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

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