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Release: Immediate

University Theatres presents comedy 'Why We Have a Body' Feb. 6-16

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Claire Chafee's award-winning comedy "Why We Have a Body," featuring a family weird enough to be true, will be presented by University Theatres Mainstage Feb. 6-16 in Theatre A of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 6-8 and 12-15, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 9 and 16.

Chafee's not-exactly-average American family includes one daughter who is a private detective, another who is a convenience-store robber, and their mother, a feminist archeologist/historian/bilingual student of the female brain who vanished in Peru but still pops up occasionally through telepathic faxes.

When "Why We Have a Body" was premiered by the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, the play won four Dramalogue Awards and the Bay Area Critics' Circle Award for original script. After the play's transfer to New York, Chafee received Newsday's George Oppenheimer Award, which is presented each season for the most impressive debut by an American playwright.

Faculty director Mary Beth Easley says that what she found appealing about the script was its capability to combine wit, insight and poignancy in depicting the empty spots in contemporary lives: "The main thing that attracted me to the play, besides the language, is its treatment of how we fill those empty places, those voids that are left by the absence of other people. In particular it addresses the female journey -- how we live with our history, and how we struggle to evolve. And besides, the play is just fun."

Her production embellishes the story with live musicians, performing original compositions by music director Mark Bruckner. The instruments-- piano, guitar, saxophone and percussion -- also provide most of the sound cues that are called for in the script.

Chafee says of her unorthodox cast of characters, "The traditional family as a harbor no longer exists. This is life after that."

"At one point in casting, I said these characters are all the extras in someone else's movie," she says. "Mary may or may not be schizophrenic and Lili who's a lesbian and Renee who's such a professional woman that she's almost not considered a woman and Eleanor who's menopausal or post-menopausal. These are the kind of women who get ignored at restaurants."

Chafee feels that the breakdown of the traditional family entails special challenges and opportunities for women, whose identities were so long defined by the men in their lives, and must now assume some of the more assertive characteristics that are associated with masculinity. "There's a frustration I have with the traditionally implanted female thought of some day, someone will come, whether its a prince or my own career or my own love. I don't think it's being a man to somehow open the door and walk through it, but sometimes you have to envision that courage as being male."

The story's events often approach the brink of absurdity and they never provide easy answers, but the play never loses its comic warmth, and never gets weirder than the experiences of contemporary society. "Those with a strong need to organize often get very frustrated with my work," Chafee says. "But I feel like if it could be easily said or easily perceived someone would have done it already."

Other artistic contributors to the production are set designer Dan Nemteanu, costume designer Jennifer Cobb and lighting designer Bryon Winn.

Tickets for "Why We Have a Body" are $13 ($6 for UI students, senior citizens and audience members 17 and younger). Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of a University Theatres subscription package. Other spring Mainstage productions are Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," March 6-16, and Frank Wedekind's "Spring Awakening," April 10-20.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

This production includes material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should call the department of theatre arts at 319-335-2700 for additional information.