What a seamless enterprise and an engaging night. The Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new works with women at the core, and Chicago Fringe Festival and NYC Strawberry Theatre Festival Award-winner, powerhouse Danielle Pinnock and her triumphant, world premiere, one women show, Body/Courage. Partnered with Waltzing Mechanics, this production shared Pinnock’s unique perspective on what it means to be truly beautiful. Body/Courage is a culmination of over 5 year of writing, mixed with over 300, one on one, interviews, is the very heart of this program, which felt like a work in progress, but in the best sense of that expression. Organic in structure, Rivendell has found the perfect piece to launch their new 2016 season. Directed by RTE member Megan Carney, this 90 minute witty, humorous and poignant journey chronicled one woman’s transformative journey to self acceptance through understanding the unique voices of others. A relevant lesson that rang true within many an audience member, judging from their reactions of uproarious laughter to shedding a few well earned tears.
Crafted from over 300 interviews conducted worldwide, Pinnock established herself as the new go-to character actress in the Windy City. Finding truth in her performances from young girl to Jamaican grandmother with equal aplomb and authority. The show bookends with her own personal stories, from childhood to present day. As a girl, Pinnock spent time split between two diametrically opposed grandmothers. One who purposely purchased school uniforms a size to small, “I was dressed for school like a black child Republican” Pinnock surrendered. The second, Grandma Una, shared a love of candy and feeding feelings to find self worth. “Fat was healthy in Jamaica” she shared. Then suddenly, “America sneezed and Jamaica caught the cold” as the quest to get Hollywood skinny invaded the popular culture there as well. This began a lifetime excursion of binge diets and being encourage and equally discouraged by the reflection in her own mirror. Tired of being obese and exhausted at the unrelenting hamster wheel of unsuccessful fad diets including the South Beach, LA Diet and the “pray the hunger away,” yes that is a real diet, you pray until you are no longer hungry, Pinnock discovered her trek was not a solo journey. This started her vanity project, chronicling interviews with hundreds of people about their relationship with food and their bodies. Touching on everything from skin color, body sizes and shape, illness and disability, ageing, and finally the newsworthy gender transition.
Body/Courage morphs from character to character at a split second pacing. This powerful and often funny contemplative journey introduces us to a young girl who shared “4th grade is when I became enemies with my body,” a professional escort who learned “big wallets lead to big egos” and a Trans character who felt trapped by her “sensual kindness” from “gender fluidity.” We even have a celebrity cameo, the “Tan Mom” also played by Pinnock in a long blonde wig, who manically paced the stage while sharing her parental tips which no one should follow. I found the more poignant moments of the piece were sampled from Pinnock’s own life story. She jokingly reflected upon her “Elaine Stritch phase” when she mixed rigorous amounts of alcohol consumption with casual sex. “My freshman 15 was more like freshman 60” she chronicled while double fisting bottles of Patron. Not surprisingly, the most significant pathos came from her dealings with her mother, who had a stroke the day before Pinnock’s wedding. “That heifer is not about to steal my day!” she snapped in a moment that brought the audience to hysterics. Finally, on Thanksgiving day, the final chapter in this interview series began as our heroine asked her mother, point blank, “do you hate my body.” A lifetime of insecurity laid forth in that moment. “You are wonderfully made sweetie” she replied, as both women were reduced to joyful and cathartic tears. Body/Courage eclectic design team included Diane Fairchild’s lighting, Regina Garcia’s set design, costumes by Janice Pytel and Robert Hornbostel on sound, with Danielle commanding center stage.
Voluptuous, full-sized, and embracing her full womanhood, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents Body/Courage is the perfect girlfriend’s night out. As Pinnock conveys her story, her own voice emerges within the stories of others. Is anyone at peace in their own skin? “Beauty is something you define within yourself” she concludes. While she may have asked “where is the plus sized Juliet?” mid-show, this princess rides to her own rescue, and has written a piece both promising and passionate. “I make my own mold and I make my own brand.” Smart girl! Finding and defining yourself from what you have been taught and what you have been told is only part of the story. You have to define yourself for yourself. Beauty is a piece of mind and as Pinnock derided, “Now, in this moment, I feel beautiful.” You will too.
Body/Courage is now playing through February 27, 2016 at the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble