No shirt, no pants, no shoes; not a problem! With the collective effort of three naturist associations… behind… them,
naturists are back at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 with Disrobed!
The Studio/Stage theater, Fringe stop number 9, is an unassuming place that’s facilitating the spectacularly avant garde; nearly fifty entirely nude people doing art, for the sake of Hollywood Fringe. Inside, a man sporting a smart three-piece suit is working the box office. He’s a mixture of polite and pained smiles when he tells the curious and casual Fringe-goer, “Disrobed has a strict audience, erm… dress code.”
Oh, what’s that? Disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed
“Absolute whole nudity, apart from footwear and a towel for hygiene reasons.”
Standing outside the theater, I watch people squirm away amongst the mutters of ‘I can’t do that’, ‘what did you drag me to’ and ‘Los Angeles just gets weirder and weirder.’
But, some stay.
In fact, the suited man says, the show is nearly sold out tonight. One woman was torn between the promise of supporting her friend’s Fringe debut and her own personal, totally reasonable, expectation to keep her clothes on. Never in a million years did she think it was an either/or situation. We’re supportive! We tell her to stay! We tell her, ‘At least we’ll ALL be naked!’
Persuasion isn’t my strong suit.
When the Southern California Naturist Association participated in Fringe 2017, I didn’t see any curious bystanders. Anyone who was seeing the show then knew the premise; it was exceptionally underground and only a rumor remained once it concluded. ‘There were nudists at Fringe? How kinky.’
This time, in 2019, the naturalist community has a self-assured, out-loud, confident presence at this year’s festival; they’ve done press, marketed, and polished the managing of their product. They held casting calls, hired crew, and have been tooling this experience for over six months. All this necessary work brought a considerable amount of legitimacy to their presence at Fringe this year.
I didn’t stumble upon their new show like I had two years ago. I was invited back by Producer/Director Brian Knudson. And they wanted me to bring a friend. A naked friend (the best kind).
My boyfriend, Travis, quickly picked out a towel that wouldn’t clash with his tattoos.
Billed as a naked comedy, based on the famous nudist one act Barely Proper (1929) by Tom Cushing, which also was readapted into Grin and Bare it for Broadway (1969-70)*. It’s a relatable fish-out-of-water story that clashes with the stresses of meeting parents. Now, Disrobed has its own special place within the Naturalist community. Adapted and modernized, this new show is a 50-minute one-act with no breaks, but does feature a talk-back at the end.
Once the lobby was open for changing, Travis was naked ASAP, undeterred. Right in the front row, he bobbled up and down, nude and ready for art. The stage was set as a living room and had the familiar cozy atmosphere of black box theater. The space is filled but not cluttered. Its design is intimate, not cramped. The back wall was playing a slideshow of body positivity, from vacation photos to mindful phrases, while we waited.
The female friend from outside joined us, deciding she could be both supportive and naked. We gave her little claps and saved her a seat right up front.
Once the slideshow stops and the house lights darken, Skye (Vanja Renee) and her fiancé Eric** (Jay Broom) enter the scene, having arrived at her parents’ secluded Los Angeles home, earlier than expected.
Renee, as Skye, has this powerful voice that dominates the space. Her long, powerful legs and a sharp glance make her a focal point. It is awesome and commanding, to such a point it overtakes her co-star at times. It is impossible not to focus on her. As Skye, she’s nervous, boisterous, and clearly at a crossroads about what’s coming. Broom embodies their accountant, a CPA to be exact, character with a button-down shirt, glasses and with a closed off, soft demeanor. In the playbill they’re both advertised comedians but their banter, their simple ‘couple-ness,’ is awkward.
While they’re showing us a couple on the precipice of engagement, they talk to one another like it’s a first date. There’s a rushed, stepped-on feeling, and because so much of comedy is about timing, it comes across as novice. If they relaxed and let the natural cadence of their personal humor take over, I could appreciate both their talents more. However, there is one key element that I can see: They are both in this together as actors. They are very clearly supporting one another on stage, which is charming.
Once Eric is alone, they get an incredible shock: sudden, unapologetic family nudity. It’s relatable and genuine. Judge Boothly as Skye’s brother Axel is a lighthearted, SoCal bro, who keeps up the brevity, but I noticed he wasn’t advertised as a comedian. Travaughn Barbee as Skye’s sister Kat is the artsy, free spirited one whom has real art to showcase. But for the CPA from Boston, it’s just too much when their fiancée reappears – also in her birthday suit. The siblings amplify the normalcy of family, they just also happen to be really naked.
Regardless, Eric must get comfortable. However, they are not comfortable, but needs to get with the game plan. Quickly!
Pushing the fiancé character into nudity does deliver some excellent physical humor – from hiding behind the changing screen, to hiding behind a lamp, then a chair, a pillow and then a guitar – and provided well-paced comedy. The urgency in Eric’s running around allowed the stage space to be used exceptionally well.
Something very appealing about this show is its constant movement. From the foreground to the background, characters are always moving. As a near-entirely nude show, it’s anything but visually boring, but that’s a given expectation. Mostly they’re acting, and just happen to be naked. They overcome nudity by purposely using the whole stage to tell the story and not bore the audience with rigid monologues, which is nice.
With the parents – father George and mother Sierra (played by Dave Falkner and Julie Antti, respectively) – they are much more idealist characters. Falkner is present in his role; he very much radiates the vibe of a nude patriarch, while spotlighted. He delivers a generalized emotional appeal to the fourth wall about how nudity is a way to fight oppression and to honor our truest selves. At times, this felt zealotry, but I believed in the character, even if I didn’t agree with him. Antti has one of the most profound presences on stage. With bilateral hip surgical scars, beautifully healed, she reminds audiences how strong and resilient our bodies, and we, are. It’s a silent encouragement that we are more than what happens to our skin, and reinforces her kind, matriarchal role the whole time she’s on stage.
At the height of the action, the entire group dances to Axel’s guitaring. But he is actually just air-guitaring on a very real guitar. And as the recording of “Shut up and Dance” plays and a real guitar silently present, I was left wanting the real deal. Everything else about the evening was real, so this felt starkly out of place, because it’s so apparent in a small setting like a black box theater. But the cast dances nonetheless.
Amongst the frivolity, Eric is being playfully tickled and becomes increasingly agitated (rightly so). It’s a bridge too far and the illusion that they could be ‘one of them’ is broken. It’s too overwhelming. They are pretending and they can’t pretend anymore (also, tickling is terrible, can I just say?).
Broom as Eric shines in being this authentic, panicked person. They had our entire audience captivated. As their neck and chest gets red with embarrassment, they give in to their anxiety and finally succumb to a meltdown. It harkens to moments everyone has felt at some point – maybe naked, maybe not, but maybe even just overexposed emotionally – we’ve all said things we don’t mean.
In the final minutes, understanding abounds; Skye dresses herself to support Eric, while Eric undresses, meeting in the middle of the chaos. It all reaffirms love is neither naked nor clothed, it’s just about us and what we bring to the table.
The Naked Truth
After much due applause, there was a rare treat: a talk-back. Director Knusdon asked if there were any first-timers, and the audience had the chance to talk about their experience. That was wonderful. I’d almost go to an entire event of people just talking about being socially naked. I felt that feeling too, in 2017.
The actors talked about the hiring process and how the callback was unique to them, as mostly non-naturist. From there, the dialog bounced around unevenly. I had hoped that there would have been more structure to this unique position, maybe like pre-written questions or even a mini-activity. Otherwise, once the ebb and flow of conversation fizzled, the night was unceremoniously over.
Rather, this might have been a good spot to thank or plug their naturalist organizations and events, like the Southern California Naturist Association, American Association for Nude Recreation, and Naturist Education Foundation. They could have advertised for fun nude events, like The World Naked Bike Ride is June 22nd (which is coming up)!
Overall, this show is a fantastic and professional attempt to seriously participating in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The play itself, and its subject, is a love letter about the Naturalist community, by the community, to the community.
They excel at creating a safe and positive space. At the talk-back, it was very clear the whole cast felt united in their experience. Their support was infectious and made it easy to leave the show uplifted and in a pleasant mood. It was, what recreational activities should be: fun. It is an easy thing to enjoy, if you let yourself. Travis, a nude novice, enjoyed the whole event, even while preparing for the show.
You can enjoy it too, I promise! disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed disrobed
The things I do have to critique are minor and highly opinionated. For example, the show is modernized to include Lady Gaga and Frozen references. One or two jokes were fine, but after that, it felt forced and I would have much rather just let the comedians be their own type of funny. Not opting to really play the guitar, while the guitar is a foot away from your face, is another misstep.
However, at the end of the day, I would support nude art in the future, and be just as forgiving about the minor complaints, to encourage something different. If we don’t reward different, all we’ll have is more of the same.
Sometimes the same is great, don’t get me wrong, but other times you need something a little more bare. I can wholeheartedly say, reader, if you want more and you want bare, Disrobed is definitely for you.
**The character of “Eric” is played by Jay Broom. It is mentioned in the Disrobed playbill that they are gender non-binary, while playing a male character. This review reflects that difference.
Find out more information on Disrobed and buy tickets here. Keep up to date with all of our Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more news and reviews throughout the year.
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