WHY WE HAVE A BODY, Great Beast Theater, at O Bar and Cafe. The Great Beast Theater has staged Clair Chafee’s remarkable play as a misguided cross between Tennessee Williams and Wendy Wasserstein. Granted, this story of four eccentric women has elements of family melodrama and wry feminist confession. But it also celebrates lesbian sexuality and women’s independence with a lyrical intelligence, weaving a cultural critique that goes beyond Williams’s emotional roller coasters and Wasserstein’s straightforward stories.

Director Mary Chase reduces the play’s philosophical sophistication to wit and dumbs down the characters in her effort to make them emotionally available to the audience; by making every decision and metaphor a marker on an emotional quest, she overrides this radical work’s intentional ambiguities. Tracing linear paths through Chafee’s nonlinear script, Chase and her cast blunt the power of the play’s interwoven stories. Interpreting the characters too literally, they make eccentricities into pathologies, and insights into therapeutic breakthroughs. This interpretation might have been fine if the play didn’t explicitly criticize the pathologizing psychologies that limit women’s freedom to define themselves.

This earnest but simplistic production of a difficult work is further hampered by the cramped conditions in the basement of the noisy O Bar. It was difficult to see the stage action, and Chafee’s complicated text was occasionally punctuated by bursts of pounding music from above.

–Carol Burbank