Magic Theatre revives Claire Chafee’s ‘Why We Have a Body’

Playwright Claire Chafee has a gift. A good one in fact, because any writer that can make audiences laugh at the emotional roller coasters they find themselves on in life, is downright ingenious. Welcome to “Why We Have A Body,” the hit play that took The City by storm back in 1993 and is now being revived.

With previews beginning Wednesday, the show, directed by Katie Pearl, runs through Oct. 2 at the Magic Theatre, where it all began.

Chafee, originally from New York, turned heads with “Why …” thanks, in part, to the complexities of the characters she created.

One is a lesbian private investigator (played by Lauren English) who catches men cheating on their wives, another a female thief prone to channeling, and yet another who delves into archeology and the inner workings of the female brain.

The show nabbed four San Francisco Dramalogue Awards and the Bay Area Critic’s Circle Award for original script.

She says she came up with the title to help her gage what she really wanted to communicate.

“It was a code to me,” she says. “Because the writing process is a little mysterious and you can go away from a piece for a couple of days and think, what was I really getting at?”

In this case, the body. The female body, in particular.

“There’s so much talk about women and feminism,” she adds. “I grew up reading books like, ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ and I thought, ‘What is this relationship women have with their bodies and men, too?’ I wanted to explore that, and thinking about the body as this entirely wise, mysterious thing that carries all these inherent memories, some of which from our childhood and some of which that touch way back into our history as people.”

Deep? Sure. But one of the reasons Chafee’s work is revered has much to do with how well she balances that depth with humor. She also notes that the play helped her realize that “a lot of the answers are just inside of us.”

“There’s this kind of resistance to what I felt to be this wall of innate thinking to transform yourself constantly by lighting a candle and thinking good thoughts,” she adds with a laugh. “I figure I’ll be doing OK if just even discover who I am, rather than make myself up. So that title really kept pulling me like a hypnotic question.”


Why We Have A Body

Presented by Magic Theatre

Where: Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 2

Tickets: $30 to $75

(415) 441-8822;

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