Last evening, the Yale Cabaret opened its latest offering; the world premiere of the English translation of the play, Boris Yeltsin, by the Portuguese playwright Mickael de Oliveira. This play is a re-telling of Aeschylus’ tragedy, Oresteia, set in Portugal in the 1990s. I was not aware of this going in, so when Brittany Spears’ song, Hit Me Baby One More played during our dinner hour, I was, to say the least, confused. I was also curious about the bath tub set, which sat just across from our seats, but I figured that out during the play, when two naked men hopped in for a bath and a murder.
And I got to thinking.
Everyone into the Pool
When my son was a freshman in high school in New Jersey, we went into New York as often as we could to catch the Broadway offerings. Perhaps it was because my son went to Catholic school, that he turned bright red, and looked very nervous, when, during the production of Rent, the character of Maureen dropped her pants to expose her derriere. He was shocked. Nick had never seen a person in person take off clothing before, and I am sure he didn’t think his first time would be on a Broadway stage.
Right after that, we went to see the stage adaptation of The Graduate. He had a similar, although somewhat greater reaction, when Kathleen Turner took her bath towel off to expose the audience to her entire nakedness, which was staged to expose just her side view. The look of shock on his face was accompanied by a small side grin, and an embarrassed roll of the eyes.
The very next play we saw, was the excellent production of Mary Zimmerman’s play, Metamorphoses. In this production, when Narcissus falls in love with his reflection in a pool, he does so in complete, full-frontal nudity. It was at this point that my son and I, realizing we had just hit the trifecta of consecutive Broadway skin exposure, just looked at each other and started giggling.
Like my son, I was in high school the first time I saw nudity on stage, when my high school Drama Club went into New York for the day, to see a matinee of Hair. Martin Landau and his then wife, Barbara Bain were sitting in front of me with their kids. (Mission Impossible was an immensely popular TV show at that time, and Landau and Bain were its main stars. Starstruck, I spent much of that performance watching them watch the show.)
Diane Keaton, who had her Broadway debut in that production of Hair chose not to disrobe for that scene, even though the actors were paid a whopping $50 extra a week if they did.
As relatively progressive as male nudity is on the live stage, it is still somewhat taboo on film. Full frontal female nudity is an accepted norm in films, but men are often discreetly covered by designer sheets or a decorative pillow. Is it because female directors are still a very small minority? In 1993, Australian director Jane Campion filmed Harvey Keitel in a nude scene in The Piano, and let’s just say, that did not catch on. More than twenty years later, people made such a big deal about the brief view of Ben Affleck’s manhood in the 2014 film, Gone, Girl, you would have thought he had just signed on for the touring company of Oh Calcutta!
When I saw that production of Hair, back when I was in high school, I knew then that I wanted to be an actress. I wondered what I would do if I was asked to do a nude scene on stage or in a film. I am ever so glad that was a decision I never had to make.
The Yale Cabaret offers delightful dinners before the show at the early performances, and small bites for the late shows. One of the nicest things about the past two shows I have attended at the Cabaret, were the people with whom we shared a table. It is a wonderful thing to see a show, and then when the lights come on, look across the table at another pair of eyes and have a discussion about it. The conversation is fresh, and the memory of the play is so recent, you are still working it out. Boris Yeltsin is playing through the 5th of December.