THE AMHERST STUDENT
by Jim Steinman
Nudity In Theater - Metaphor For Revolution
It feels really stupid to bother justifying the mass nudity that takes place in the last scenes of "The Dream Engine" and lasts for about forty minutes on stage. "Artistically valid" is such a bullshit phrase anyway. What matters is that the bare flesh helped make the "Revolution" scenes of the play exciting, moving, and extraordinarily powerful in a purely theatrical, immediate way.
There's no point in generalized discussions about whether nudity, or fucking, or cunnilingus, or blow jobs, or anything else that is human is necessary in theater or not. It's like trying to figure out if voices, or movement, or make-up, or costumes, or words, or sounds, or life, or love is necessary. Like every other aspect of artistic creation, nudity, in specific cases like this, either works or it doesn't. Even at its worst, it's usually wildly sensual, or touchingly honest, or genuinely comic.
In "The Dream Engine" the nudity works beautifully for a multitude of reasons. The two most important are intellectual and emotional-theatrical, to make a fairly false separation. When the actors strip in front of 1,000 people at that specific moment in that specific theater during that specific play, we have a perfect inevitable, inescapable, and magnificent metaphor for revolution. The nudity and other "taboo" rituals in the theater mirror, with physical immediacy, the illusory street revolution which the play is about, but which is outside the theater. A limit has been demolished - a boundary has been shattered. It's that simple. We can feel the revolution in front of us, not just talk about it or think about it. And the nudity plays a major part in bringing this home.
Okay, this is all intellectual justification. For the emotional-theatrical ("Existential," if you want) reason, it's even easier. The bare bodies make the scene incredibly more moving, more exultant, more terrifying, and, ultimately, more convincing. It's fascinating to me how paradoxical the effect of seeing all those hairy cocks and cunts is. On one hand, it makes the actors/characters extremely violent and strong: the scene is heroic and mythic. On the other hand, it makes them at the same time more vulnerable and innocent: the scene is human and tragic. At the moments during which they took place, the "Revolution" scenes, done nude, were as a total creation, a true act of freedom and liberation, and, for those involved, as well as almost all of the audience with whom I've spoken, an exciting breakdown in the rigid barriers between "life" and "art."
The nude stuff certainly shouldn't have surprised anyone. The only time everyone felt uncomfortable was last night when we kept on our little G-strings to keep our un-American balls out of sight. That was obscene, though the situation only intensified the anger of the cast and the power of the finale. I felt really helpless. It seems ridiculous and dishonest that a character who, about two hours before, said such things as "What I mean by revolution is that very moment when my prick becomes a political force" and "There are no lies on my body" and "I am real ... Swell to my size"- that that character shouldn't appear nude. Next time - fuck the pigs.
Finally- it was really beautiful skin, so we might as well spread it around. I'd like to thank the cast for a really amazing and actually inspiring job. It inspired some people to oink a bit louder than usual. It inspired others to simply cry. It inspired a few to just stare with wonderment and amazement. It inspired a lot of Brillo-pad girls to actually ask their dates for help, to run out of the theater in fright, and to call the cops in to protect them. It inspired a few adventurers to reach out and touch. I like to think it at least got a lot of people to feel something. That alone is enough. Or should be.