Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath

While I haven't seen this play yet, it makes me think of another topic that might prove interesting for discussion. And that's the point of "the Internets" anyway, isn't it, to prompt discussion?

Nudity. Obviously, this play's going to have some of that. Plays that I've seen that had nudity in them always stick out in my memory. Sometimes because the use of it has been organic and particularly effective (like the Barksdale's "Misfits" about 5 years ago), sometimes because it was jarring and out of place (a play called "Big Love" I saw at the Humana Festival many years ago started out with a woman emerging from a bath tub for no apparent reason). And in one unusual case, it's been because of both.

Maybe about 6 years ago, Triangle Players did a production of "The Judas Kiss," that starts out with a passionate interlude between a couple of servants. The RTP production had Stephanie Kelley playing one of the servants and the scene was blocked so that she stood up in the bed so her bedmate could "pleasure her orally" as one might say. Well, it was an effective way to get an audience's attention, that's for sure, and that scene has stuck in my mind ever since. The only problem was that the rest of the play was a moderately boring talk-fest and never matched the visceral intensity of those first few minutes.

I guess I think that in the best situations, nudity is just a natural aspect of a play, just like it is a natural aspect of life (I've got 4 kids; not many days go by when one of them isn't running around naked at some point...) From what I remember, "Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune" has a couple of scenes like that, where people are naked because it's a situation where they would be naked in real life, you know? I guess Americans are so repressed about the whole nudity thing it's hard to just take it at face value. For instance, remember the big hullabaloo when Nicole Kidman appeared naked in a scene in "The Blue Room" on Broadway?

I don't have a specific point here, just some ramblings. Hope "The Secret" turns out well. I'm looking forward to seeing Scott as just one character for a change, instead of 6 dozen...


Anonymous said...

For me, nudity onstage never works. Ever. It always instantly snaps me out of the theatrical illusion. Regardless of how tastefully or artfully it's done, suddenly there's a naked person in front of me. He or she stops being the character and immediately becomes a naked person.

It's not like in film because it's an actual, honest-to-goodness naked person in the room with me, and there's just something suddenly very real and not theatrical about it for me. Plus, I instantly start thinking, "Is she aware of all these people looking at her body? Is she cold? Is she more prone to forget her lines when she's naked? I bet the other actors are. What was it like in rehearsal the first time she had to be naked?"

Maybe I just like naked girls too much. That's possible.

Dave T said...

Some of the same illusion-breaking thoughts have gone through my mind which is why I think nudity is very tricky. Among the reasons I would stop short of saying nudity never works for me are: a) the previously-mentioned "Misfits" where Marilyn Monroe being naked works on so many levels with her character in the play (i.e., objectified, vulnerable, seductive, etc.), and b) I think there's an American cultural bias built-in (After spending several weeks in Europe in the summertime where seeing naked people hanging out in a park or on a beach is a matter of course, I remember my "hey, there's a naked person!" reactions mellowing quite a bit. And that was back when my system still had a modicum of testosterone to speak of...) So, in an attempt to be "objective" -- never really possible for a critic -- I try to think "How would a person who hadn't been both subconsciously and overtly told to be ashamed of their body since birth react to this?"

Thanks for chiming in, Andrew! I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who thinks about naked people...

Anonymous said...

I think discussion is great but you all, are in this case, wasting our time. You missed the point. See the play. Then discuss it.