Jodie’s Body returns

Aviva Jane Carlin is back with her best-known piece, Jodie’s Body.

For many, no introduction is needed. The show’s initial Sacramento run, starting in October 1999, was extended several times. All told, Jodie’s Body played here for about five months. The only city where the play had a longer run was New York, where it played for 18 months and earned Carlin a nomination for a Drama Desk award. Carlin subsequently returned to the Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) with two more solo shows, Shirley Valentine and Almost Grown Up.

In addition to being hugely popular, Jodie’s Body unanimously has been recommended by local critics. But it should be remembered that STC artistic director Peggy Shannon took a gamble when she booked it four years ago. Shannon fretted that the play’s nudity (Carlin’s character, Jodie, works as a model who poses for art classes) might drive away some subscribers. Headline writers at the time made numerous smirking references.

But the play was—and still is—an achievement by Carlin as a playwright and performer. Many issues are raised, including society’s preoccupation with body shape. But the centerpiece is Carlin’s experience in South Africa as apartheid came to an end and as Nelson Mandela was elected the nation’s president. That bold, risky, exhilarating step into freedom and self-empowerment is the metaphor that rings through the entire piece. And Carlin is a marvelous interpreter of her own material.

The passage of time has altered the way the piece resonates. Mandela’s election was a great moment, but life in South Africa is a mixed bag nowadays. Carlin, as a New Yorker, also was deeply affected by terrorism in 2001. Middle Eastern conflicts are still a factor—regardless of what you believe about Iraq, it safely can be said that many Muslims view the United States as their oppressor.

But none of that subtracts from this show. It’s a measure of the play’s power and quality that Jodie’s Body hasn’t become dated; it just reverberates in somewhat different ways. It’s still a fine piece of theater, whether you’ve seen it before or are seeing it for the first time.

Jodie’s Body plays at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and also at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, $25. Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H Street, (916) 443-6722. Through May 4, advance ticket purchase recommended.