The Naked Party The Shop at Fort Fringe
Remaining Performances: Friday, July 25 @ 10:30 PM; Saturday, July 26 @ 11 PM; Sunday, July 27 @ 2:30 PM
They say: “A hot new play that gives an intimate and honest look at exactly how much there is to lose when you decide to reveal yourself. The Naked Party takes nine students and strips them of their costumes, armor (and inhibitions) in order to fully see themselves for the first time.”
Brian’s take: All right, I’ll admit it. I may have been to a naked party or two. Ok, fine, and by “two” I mean two dozen. And maybe, just maybe a handful of those were held in my living room. So what? I’m not ashamed. We nibbled sashimi and rhapsodized about Kant, you know, normal Saturday night stuff. Hell, the New York Times covered a naked party I helped host—that’s gotta lend a guy some credibility, right?
Maybe not. However, I do feel particularly qualified to offer my opinion of The Naked Party, which has been selling out the Shop at Fort Fringe. There are elements of the show that work very nicely, such as a conceit by which every party-goer gets time in a closet to undress while airing their inner feelings. Likewise with the staging—maneuvering 9 actors around a space as small as the Shop with quite a few set pieces is no easy task, and playwright-director Jason Schlafstein manages to minimize traffic jams while keeping the picture dynamic and balanced. And I have to give a shout-out to Guitar Guy, a character that might have been forgettable had not Rob Shand done such a superb job engaging (and, at all the appropriate times, blissfully disengaging) with the silliness around him. Plus he reminds me of about 15 of my buddies rolled into one.
It’s actually quite remarkable how Guitar Guy, who has very few lines and integration with the main action, emerges more fully than some of the more prominent characters. My first thought upon leaving the theater was that Schlafstein should excise a character or two—Julie, perhaps, or Jordan, who both seem to represent the same moral conundrum. But the concept for this play poses a logistical dilemma: it requires a quorum in order to put the party in “naked party,” and each member of this quorum, if the play is to reach its potential, must be more fully fleshed out.
Not that there isn’t plenty of flesh. This ensemble delivers on all the scrotal and mammarian promises of its show’s title. In my real world experience, naked parties are great equalizers: that hottie you normally drool over looks a bit more average sans clothes, and that untouchable you thought might make you queasy strikes you as a little better-looking than expected. That seems to be an unspoken lesson here. But what I find most interesting about nudity on stage is that it is one of the few instances in which an actor’s actionis completely unified with that of his or her character. At the outset of this play, both Budman and AJ Cooke, the actor who plays him, have the same objective—to get naked in front of an audience—and that self-conscious synchronicity makes for a unique electricity in the theater. (Although I can’t be sure, I think both character and actor got synchronously wasted in the theater as well.)
The acting is uneven—but everyone in the ensemble is at least competent, if not strong. And whatever, you’ve got to give credit to anyone who is willing to run around naked for an hour in front of a roomful of judgmental strangers (and critics, no less!) Adlerian training or not, that cast has serious balls—at least half of them real and jangly, the remainder metaphoric.
I had a lot of fun at this show, but I will say this: I’ve had a lot of fun at a lot of shows. To all those people who stood for 75 minutes in the oppressive heat of the shop at 11 o’clock at night, the smell of sweat indigenous to very specific bodily crevices wafting through the rafters, I am impressed by your dedication. Now take that dedication and go see another production that, while it may feature performers in full dress, still deserves at least as many audience members as The Naked Party. I’ll let you know when I’m holding the next real one in my living room. Maybe this time we can invite the Post.
See it if: You believe that, like your own naked ass, theater can be endearing in its imperfections.
Skip it if: Butt hair makes you squeamish.