DramaWatch: the naked and the nude

The first two weeks in May bring Portland stages a bundle of shows straddling the territory between the real and the ideal

This Saturday, as it turns out, is World Naked Gardening Day, and don’t worry, neighbors, I’m not taking part: I’m not really much of a gardener. The revelation, however, makes me think of another spot of news I got a few days ago from my friend Gerald Stiebel, in his weekly column Missives From the Art World. Gerald was writing about Monumental, the new show of nude paintings by the 20th and 21st century master Lucian Freud, at Acquavella Gallery in New York, and in it he discusses the fine line between nudity and nakedness:

“The renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark, in his 1956 book, The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art, made a distinction between the Naked and the Nude, considering the nude as an ideal representation of the naked body. By Clark’s definition Freud’s works are not nudes but might be called naked portraits.

An intimate theater in the flesh: Lucian Freud, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” 1995, private collection, at Acquavella Gallery.

“Freud himself wrote, ‘Being naked has to do with making a more complete portrait; a naked body is somehow more permanent, more factual … when someone is naked there is in effect nothing to be hidden. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves; that means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent them. It is a matter of responsibility. In a way I don’t want the painting to come from me, I want it to come from them. It can be extraordinary how much you can learn from someone by looking very carefully at them without judgment.’”

Hardly anyone would call Freud’s often massive portraits ideals of the human form. They can seem grotesque: hills and vales and fissures and folds of flesh; fantastic landscapes of skin. And yet they hide nothing, at least visually: They exude humility, openness, a sense of natural animal humanness, vulnerable and unguarded.

It struck me that art in any form can be divided between the naked and the nude. It’s not that one is superior to the other. We need ideals: The unutterable beauty of Michelangelo’s David can bring you to tears. We need unblinking expressions of what actually exists. And often what we get is a messy mashup of the two. What is Hamlet but an unrepentant reality sucking the life out of an ideal? What is Hairspray but a vigorous ideal triumphing over an ugly reality? Theater makes its living in the fault lines between the real and ideal, where things get pulled apart and sometimes put together again. It reveals things, or it ought to, stripping layers away as it entertains. Threepenny Opera: Why does it make you feel so good? Waiting for Godot: How can it make you laugh, and then quietly shatter you? Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Crossing Mnisose, in its premiere at The Armory: How to even think about an ideal unless you know the historical and contemporary reality first?

All of which is to say that a passel of new shows will be opening on Portland theater stages in the first two weeks of May, and while I’m not sure any actual unclothed flesh will be flashing, there’s bound to by a good amount of emotional and narrative nakedness and nudity – probably, most of the time, all muddled up, the way theater does that thing.

Take a look, then plant your own theatrical garden. Dressed however you want to dress. Or not:

*

Phillip J. Berns and Kayla Kelly as Peter Pan and Wendy in “Peter/Wendy” at Bag&Baggage. Casey Campbell Photography

PETER/WENDY. Jeremy Bloom’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories promises a peek into the darker side of Neverland, and is “decidedly not for children.” The idealism seems to put it in the nudity column, the dark streak in the nakedness column. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Opens May 2, Bag&Baggage, in The Vault, Hillsboro.

WOLF AT THE DOOR. Marisela Treviño Orta’s play at Milagro Theatre, directed by the talented Rebecca Martinez, is subtitled “a grim Latino fairy tale.” Fairy tale = idealism. Grim = realism. The plot sounds stark, which seems to tip the tale toward naked. Milagro is one of four companies across the U.S. taking part in this new play’s “rolling premiere.” In English; opens May 2.

LOVE, LOSS, AND WHAT I WORE. Based on a book by Ilene Beckerman, this collection of monologues and ensemble pieces is written by the witty Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia, adepts at whipping up comic fantasies with wryly anarchic undertones. I’m thinking the nude side of the equation, with just a touch of nakedness to keep things honest. Opens May 2, Triangle Productions at The Sanctuary at Sandy Plaza.

“Escape Alone” at Shaking the Tree: from left, Jacklyn Maddux, Jane Bement Geesman, Lorraine Bahr, JoAnn Johnson. Photo: Gary Norman

ESCAPED ALONE. Shaking the Tree looks to be living up to its name with this West Coast premiere of the Caryl Churchill play, which is directed by Samantha Van Der Merwe and features a crackerjack cast of Lorraine Bahr, Jane Bement Geesman, JoAnn Johnson, and Jacklyn Maddux. Churchill’s plays tend to be stark and political; this one, in the words of The Observer, “unleashes an intricate, elliptical, acutely female view of the apocalypse.” Let’s guess, naked. Opens May 3.

THE REVOLUTIONISTS. Lauren Gunderson’s play on the Morrison Stage at Artists Rep tips the audience back to 1793 and the Reign of Terror in France and into the fears and ambitions of a quartet of women: Marie Antoinette, the assassin Charlotte Corday, a playwright, and a Caribbean spy. Meanwhile, the guillotine looms. Naked? Nude? Flip a coin and call it. Opens May 4.

DIARY OF A WORM, A SPIDER, AND A FLY. Oregon Children’s Theatre’s newest, a musical adapted by Joan Cushing from the Diary of a Worm book series for younger kids, promises to be zippy and happy, with a lot of laughter and a lesson or two. Under the circumstances I don’t want to say “nude,” so let’s just say “ideal.” Opens May 4 in the Newmark Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, joining OCT’s Jason and the Argonauts, for slightly older kids, downstairs in the Winningstad Theatre.

Shake those pompoms: “Vanities: The Musical” at the Portland Civic Theatre Guild.

VANITIES: THE MUSICAL. This year Portland Civic Theatre Guild’s annual musical blowout on its season of staged readings features concert readings of this musical about the adventures of “three vivacious Texas teens from cheerleaders to sorority sisters to housewives to liberated women and beyond.” The readings, in Triangle’s home space at The Sanctuary, are always friendly, club-like affairs, and this one offers a sashay down memory lane. Two shows, May 6 and 7, and if this trio isn’t meant to be an ideal, what is?

Rhyan Michelle Hills in “Sirens of Coos Bay.” Photo: Sophia Diaz

SIRENS OF COOS BAY. This new “grunge musical” with the terrific title riffs on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Little Mermaid and transports it to an Oregon coastal city “undone by the spotted owl controversy and the clash of the fishing generation with the new male-dominated grunge music scene.” The script’s by Laura Christina Dunn, with music by Dunn and four others. I’m guessing naked, with a sheen of nude. The Broken Planetarium at Clinton Street theater, six performances only, May 8-18.

CURVE OF DEPARTURE. The adventurous Chapel Theatre Collective, which has staked its claim in Milwaukie, presents the Northwest premiere of Rachel Bonds’ 2017 play that sets a family down in a cramped motel room in Santa Fe on the eve of a funeral, with revelations ensuing. Sounds very naked. Opens May 10.

PEBBLE. Imago’s Next Wave Festival concludes with this new play by Carol Triffle, featuring Imago regulars Danielle Vermette, Kyle Delamarter, Jon Farley and Megan Skye Hale in a tale about “missed connections, conflicting impulses and thwarted desires, and a prismatic exploration of loneliness and what it means to be an outsider – or an artist.” Sounds very naked. But Triffle has a deep absurd streak, and a deep tinge of optimism in spite of herself, and a homing instinct for both the folly and the funny in life, so I’m guessing nudity, emerging. Opens May 10.

ELEEMOSYNARY. I have an affection for the plays of Lee Blessing, a long-ago Reedie who’s been a staple of the American regional theater scene for decades, so even though his scripts can be sharp and prickly and argumentative, I’m putting this in the nude camp. Eleemosynary, from 1985, tells the tale of three generations of women in one family, and a stroke, and a dramatically significant penchant for spelling. It’s at Readers Theatre Repertory, where productions are always staged readings, but tickets are only ten bucks, and you get to watch it surrounded by art at Blackfish Gallery. Two performances only, May 10-11.

Gretchen Corbett and Sharonlee McLean in “The Breath of Life.” Photo: Kate Szrom/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

THE BREATH OF LIFE. This one could be very good. Two terrific actors, Gretchen Corbett and Sharonlee McLean, get down to brass tacks in David Hare’s play about a wife and a lover who meet and deal with the fact that they’ve been sharing a man without knowing it. Hare’s a very smart writer. The forecast: mostly naked, with a chance of nude. Opens May 10, Ellyn Bye Studio, Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

WELL/LET ME DOWN EASY. Profile Theatre is attempting to pull off a fascinating juggling act – two plays, with the same six actors, in rotating rep. It’s a highly promising cast – La’Tevin Alexander, Jennifer Lanier, Michael Mendelson, Allison Mickelson, daughter/mother Eleanor and Vana O’Brien – and two top playwrights: Lisa Kron for best-play Tony nominee Well, about illness and its complications, and Anna Deavere Smith for Let Me Down Easy, with voices famous and anonymous talking about health care in America. I’m guessing a whole lot of provocatively entertaining nakedness. Profile at Portland Playhouse; Well opens May 11, Let Me Down Easy opens May 18, and they run in rep through June 16.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.