Though nudity has become prevalent on New York stages, that doesn't mean the rest of the country isn't affected by the implications of disrobing. With Portrait of a Nude, at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, playwright Laura Shamas examines the historical reaction to one particular incident of undress: the creation and display of Francisco Goya's 1798 masterpiece, "The Naked Maja."
Portrait of a Nude looks not only at the scandals Goya's painting invoked at the time (such as Edouard Manet's impassioned but personally destructive defense of the work) but its legacy of controversy, as when, in 1991, a Penn State University professor sued because she felt having to teach in front of a print of the painting constituted sexual harassment.
Frank Burd, a theatre critic for This Month ON STAGE magazine and director at PA's Allen's Lane Theatre, directs the piece. "It took great courage for Goya to create `The Naked Maja,'" Burd said in a statement, "and even greater courage to withstand the barrage of criticism that accompanied its viewing."
Burd told Playbill On-Line, "I love working with plays that deal with censorship and artistic freedom. It's about the changing boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. We always assume criticism comes from the right, but sometimes it comes from surprising sources. I'd just finished doing a play on Georgia O'Keeffe. And she couldn't stand critics of her work reading into it what they wanted to see, which had nothing to do with what she saw... I do a lot of nude photography -- in fact, several of my photos are being displayed in the gallery at the theatre. The work is naked but not especially sensual. Artists have hidden behind the word `nude.' If it's naked, it's bad; if it's nude, it's art. Who made these rules?"
Starring in Portrait are Jennifer Lee Andrews, Mary Martello, Paul Meshejian, Tim Moyer and Pete Pryor. < P> Portrait of a Nude started previews Feb. 2 and opened Feb. 3 for a run through Feb. 14 at the Independence Studio on 3. For information call (215) 574-3550, ext. 4. Upcoming shows scheduled for that space include:
Lyle Kessler's drama, Orphans, Mar. 2-14. William Roudebush directs this tale of two Philadelphia brothers who kidnap a rich man only to have him turn the tables on them.
Will Stutts will direct his own play, Oscar Wilde's Lover, Mar. 30- Apr. 11. This world premiere production tells of playwright Wilde's relationship with his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, which led to Wilde's destruction and -- possibly -- his immortality. The tale was told twice in New York last season, on Broadway in The Judas Kiss and Off Broadway in Gross Indecency.
The Studio's season will close with David Hare's Skylight. Originally scheduled to run Apr. 27-May 9, the show's popularity on Broadway and around the country has already led to an extension in Philadelphia, to May 23. This drama explores the relationship of a businessman and his mistress who meet again three years after they've parted. No director has yet been announced.
For tickets and information, call (215) 574-3550, ext. 4.
-- By David Lefkowitz and Christine Ehren