Picture this: you’re at a small performance space underneath a neon-lit jazz club, amidst a pink-lit bar and decorative mannequins. After a few moments of mingling and sipping PBR, a man comes onstage and informs everyone that if they didn’t already know, this show involves fully nude bodies. If we are so shocked by this horrid fact and want a refund, they are available at the door.
Soon enough, the show begins. Two nude figures crawl onstage, wrapped in what appears to be trash bags. Like fleshy butterflies from cocoons, they wrench themselves free.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” one says. “I look like a monster.”
Thought it may seem like it, this is no seedy den of sin and terror. It’s The Annoyance Theatre, a relatively new Williamsburg space for subversive comedy, performance, and improv. Originating in Chicago, it opened up a New York location this past January. This is their new weekly show, Body. It is centered around two alien beings (Edy Modica and Brian Fiddyment) who are plopped into human bodies on a strange version of Earth, much to their disgust. And yes, they are naked.
These horrified sacks of flesh are guided by an alien named Jorp (Rick Swenson), who has no body because he has risen to a “higher sense of being.” Slowly but surely, they learn about their bodies and what they can do. Don’t expect this to be a dry evening of anatomical education, as it turns out that The Annoyance’s version of how bodies work is far zanier than any textbook on this planet.
So how does a concept like this come about? Body was created, written and performed by Brian Fiddyment, Edy Modica, and Rick Swenson. The three of them had been friends previously: Fiddyment and Modica bonded during their time at acting school. Swenson, who graduated from NYU Tisch’s Film and TV program in 2014, has known Fiddyment since their early teens growing up in Virginia. Swenson began casting him and Modica in all of his class projects and they have been collaborating since. What better people to be naked with for an hour than old friends?
“The idea started out with basically us just wanting to do gross things with our naked body onstage,” Fiddyment explained.
“We were like, you could put your balls on my head!!” Modica interjected.
Though (spoiler alert) scrotum and cranium do not unite onstage, there are plenty of things to look at in Body. Turns out that everyday activities such as eating hot dogs or exercising become far more interesting to observe when the participant is sans clothing.
Though Body delves into most of the uncomfortable nooks and crannies of the body’s functions, it does not delve very deeply into carnal matters.
Swenson told us that they tried to come up with ideas, but most seemed crude or didn’t fit with the intention of the show.
“And I feel like the point of it is to not look at us sexually,” said Modica. “Like, after five minutes of watching it you’re not even seeing our bodies anymore.”
It’s true: after a bit, it was hard to assess these bodies anything other than strange specimens, full of hanging skin and folds and parts that shake when you jump around.
After seeing full nudity as the norm for so long, the presence of clothes become strange. The only time the two are clothed at all is during a strange dreamlike segment that dips its feet in a gender discourse of sorts, where, as a result of wondering if they could be stuck in the wrong body, Modica plays a man with unconventional sexual inclinations and Fiddyment plays a woman in a warped fantasy of the future, accompanied by delightfully odd cartoon drawing projections (done by Modica).
The performers articulated that playing with gender and living as another gender are things they often find themselves thinking about, and that this felt important to include in the show. “[Performing as opposite genders] something we’ve done a lot before. I think even if you don’t openly identify as trans or anything, it’s definitely something that comes up in like, being who you are. Thinking of how you would be as a woman, or wondering if what you do comes off as womanly or manly,” said Fiddyment.
A particular highlight was the show’s ending segment. The bodies have accepted that they will soon rot away, and they might as well learn to love their odd fleshy features. What began as an absurd version of Earth, rife with all-hot-dog diets and bones made of “solid milk,” becomes more personal and self-aware as Modica and Fiddyment begin listing actual aspects of their bodies they don’t like and finding humorous ways of assuming a more positive perspective. It’s a strange mix of uncomfortable and inspiring to watch the strange “flaws” that deviate from the body typically displayed in media put on such brash and proud display. Until that night, I never thought a vagina could also be a banjo. You learn something new every day.
Despite its relatively simple beginnings, Body has more to it than merely gross naked people and an alien in a morph suit. In a time where the Internet is saturated with talk of body-positivity and self-love, this strange show ultimately manages to accomplish some of those same ideas while swapping saccharine sentimentality in favor of comedy and the grotesque.
Audiences have generally felt positively about the show, but not everyone exits feeling liberated.
“Men definitely have a hard time afterward. They don’t know how to talk to me,” Modica tells us. “It feels so good.”
‘Body’ continues every Friday through October 16 at The Annoyance Theatre, 367 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg. 8pm. Tickets are $8. Written and performed by Brian Fiddyment, Edy Modica, and Rick Swenson. Directed by Jo Firestone. More info here.