Alexa Derman & Roxie Perkins Explore Mind/Body Split
by Fritz Mad’Laine
Living in a body is no easy task. Dissociation wrenches our souls from the flesh satchels we call home, leaving us desperate to reunite body with mind. We are left feeling alien in our own skin—disconnected from the world, unsure where body ends and space begins.
For those living with chronic illness and trauma, this experience is all too familiar—but rarely sees the limelight. Enter “Ways to Leave a Body,” Cutting Ball Theatre’s groundbreaking double feature, which explores disembodiment with tenderness and wit.
Alexa Derman’s deeply personal “Restoration Master Reset” invites us to step into the shoes of Winona (Eliza Boivin), a winsome college student “especially ill-equipped at managing having a human body.” Winona’s formative years have been consumed by her battle against an unknown illness—each doctor’s appointment leaving her with yet another label. It turns out she’s got the hottest diagnosis on the market: Lyme Disease—which she’s nearly convinced herself is just a giant conspiracy.
And after one look at the #LymeLife hashtag on Instagram, who can blame her? In a body that’s brown, queer, femme, and disabled, it’s exhausting to hear privileged white women claim your fatigue as their own. Boivin’s performance is moving, as she wrestles with self-doubt and surrenders to the absurdity of losing her youth to some diseased tick in New Jersey.
Her devoted partner Rhys (Kaitlyn Ortega) stays by Winona’s side as their bed transforms into a hospital gurney—a poignant illustration of how chronic illness creeps into everyday life. Rhys makes love to Winona without touching her, as Winona lies motionless, alone and disembodied. Her late-night Google searches about sex and dissociation strike a chord with those of us who struggle to connect through numbness.
Roxie Perkins’ “True Romance” departs from the physical, thrusting us into the disorienting, menacing realm of the psychological. A nameless teenage girl (Boivin) sits before an ominous door, as a massive digital clock counts down to zero. A thunderous voice (Renee Rogoff) booms from offstage, trapping our heroine in a sinister power play. “You’re the one torturing yourself!” it bellows, shocking the young rebel each time she makes a run for it.
The rules are simple: walk through the door, and no one gets hurt. But what lies on the other side is no game. Her attempts to escape lead to the rosy domain of memory, where she relives a high school romance with her persistent best friend (Adam Niemann). Her flashbacks take us to his old jalopy, where they listen to disco while driving to the Marina for a night of revelry.
The two dance and exchange friendship bracelets on the beach—but as they twirl in the moonlight, we can’t shake the sense that something’s not quite right. Their dialogue occurs through voice-over, as they lip synch conversations which may or may not have ever happened.
Perkins’ writing is beautifully haunting, giving voice to a nuanced survivor’s narrative. Lost in a rom com rewrite of her own trauma, our Juliet takes us on a tour of the frailty of memory. The boy she shows is goofy and endearing—one of the best things about her chaotic life. But what happens when the memories we cherish in our youth begin to haunt us in adulthood?
“Ways to Leave a Body” sets out to do the impossible—give shape to the shapeless. Derman and Perkins remind us that disembodiment is deeply human, and that recovery is erratic. They give us permission to heal in our own ways, and to embrace the messiness of life in a body.
“Ways to Leave a Body” by Alexa Derman and Roxie Perkins, directed by Allie Moss and Maya Herbsman, at Cutting Ball Theatre, San Francisco, through Sunday, February 9, 2020. Info: cuttingball.com
Cast: Eliza Boivin, Kaitlyn Ortega, Renee Rogoff, and Adam Niemann.