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JONNA'S BODY, PLEASE HOLD

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segment in Woody Allen's 1973 film comedy Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) springs to mind as the metaphorical premise of Joanna Tamases' quirky autobiographical solo show becomes clear. Allen's zany skit personalized the inner workings of the human body, complete with obstinate spermatozoa in white jumpsuits and microscopic-sized engineers helming an electronic control center monitoring bodily functions. Tamases' variation on this concept involves a harried phone receptionist who literally dwells under her skin, fielding a barrage of calls from her constantly complaining body parts. While Allen's modus operandi was bawdy slapstick, Tamases goes for ironic dark comedy, with generally satisfactory results. Closer to festival-type performance art than the typically bland L.A. solo showcase, Tamases' piece dares to treat the somber topic of her battles with cancer as fodder for vaudevillian shtick. She enjoyed a successful career as a circus clown, leaving her with a vast arsenal of performing resources for broad physical comedy. Her animated face and graceful body express an impressive cornucopia of emotions and diverse characters as she plays herself and the various "personalities" inhabiting her human form. Her upper back, threatening to rebel if she doesn't give it some rest, is a dimwitted jock with a Brooklyn accent. A foreign invader in the form of a tumor sounds like a hardboiled European general. Her baby-talking small toe, French-accented breasts, and other feisty body components register their individual complaints, both prior to and after her diagnosis with the disease. This gimmick scores laughs, though it sometimes wears thin, even within the 75-minute running time. In the long run it's the quieter moments that pack the biggest punch, as we see the vulnerability behind the high spirits. That recurring health setbacks haven't prevented Tamases from forging a circus career—and now this show—is a testament to her inner strength, courage, and zest for life. Her comedic style isn't exactly gallows humor; it's more a reaffirmation of her ability to find joy beyond the suffering. She makes compelling points: victims of terrible diseases must find a way of living beyond sadness and worry; we must all be concerned about caring for our bodies in ways we can control, never shirking that duty simply because there are things we can't control. Directed with taste and sensitivity by Randy Schulman, this heartfelt and earnest little show illuminates simple but profound truths. "Jonna's Body, Please Hold," presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Aug. 21-Sept. 28. $22.50-25. (310) 477-205

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