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Here and Now

Go for the buzz

Scene: a gym. Mood: tense. Enter stage left: the instructor.

September 11, 2003|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Let me tell you about the show that I am in. Yes, that's right, I'm in a show! It's called "Power Sculpt: The Musical," and it runs every Thursday at 6 p.m. at my gym. I would tell you the name of my gym, but to be honest, the room is full enough as it is, and we have a good chemistry going right now, cast-wise. Possibly if the show continues to generate buzz and we decide to take it to other gyms, we'll hold auditions for a road tour. But as I said, that's down the line.

You might call "Power Sculpt: The Musical" "West Side Story" with weights. Critics would probably see it as a safe slice of contemporary Americana. It's set in present-day Los Angeles and tells the story of a power-sculpt class that meets every Thursday evening at 6. Not surprisingly, most of the cast is women, and just as unsurprisingly, I like this about the class.

We are a cross-section of the city, I am sure, but I don't mingle, so I can't give you specifics. Anyway, as the show opens, the cast straggles in from their workaday lives, and a series of conflicts is introduced: Which equipment are we going to need? A mat plus a set of moderate weights and a squatting bar? How involved are we going to get with our step-aerobic benches today, and if so, should I have had that side order of potato salad at lunch? Is this going to be the class where I finally get my navel to touch my spinal cord, as the instructor seems to think I should be capable of doing?

The mood is tense as the music begins. Last-minute sips of water are taken, brows are furtively dabbed. Our instructor has adjusted her headset and stands before us. The audience silently realizes she is from somewhere in the Midwest, based on her twang. The music starts pumping (I don't know where this music comes from, possibly there's a factory somewhere, in New Jersey, maybe, that churns out power-sculpt and spinning and step-aerobic albums, because you can't power-sculpt to Aimee Mann, after all) as we descend into a deep knee bend/squat. This is followed by deep breath exhale as we rise into what I like to call our Nixon Leaves Washington pose, arms held high to form a V.

Who are we? At this moment, everything feels open to question. Like all good theater, "Power Sculpt: The Musical" is more about asking questions than supplying answers. It is about risk-taking, heading into the unknown.

But if I could be personal for just a moment, for me it's really about dealing with my unrequited dream of becoming a professional dancer. We squat, we lunge, we punch the air. I spend much of Act I watching myself in the mirror, overcoming a mild gay panic as I take one-two-three steps to the right and then head the other way, as the instructor ups the stakes by adding leg kicks and arm activity. Soon the person I am watching in the mirror isn't me, it's the dancing me!

Thus transformed (we are now in the late-middle portion of Act I), the dancing abruptly ends. It is time now for muscle toning. To involve our weights. There's a different song being pumped in, let's say "Shake Your Body," although I doubt it. We do bicep curls, triceps thingies, dips designed to shape the buns. I don't know, I miss the dancing portion, and I'm sweating more than Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News."

Act II. We are no longer human beings with distinct personalities so much as a group of muscles and tendons, in different outer shells. My boxers keep riding up, but that's for another time.

"You should be pushing your bellybutton into your spine," we hear. That impossible request! Is she speaking metaphorically? Who am I, Sting?

"Power Sculpt: The Musical" itself could be one big metaphor, although for what I'm not sure. At the very least, the show is a deceptively deep evocation of the complexities of the human soul. It is also a journey into the limits of flexibility and muscle tone and, I dare say, self-esteem.

By the end of Act II, when we're fully engaged in a "downward dog" yoga stretch, there is the sense of having gone to a pretty dark place and come back, bowed but unbroken. We end, we clap -- for ourselves, our power sculpting selves. The clapping is a kind of self-blurb. It reads: " 'Power Sculpt: The Musical' is better than the 'Vagina Monologues!' "

Paul Brownfield can be contacted at paul.brownfield@latimes.com.

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