You really haven’t seen obscene hand gestures until you’ve seen them performed by a fully nude, slightly sweaty, winking blond woman. In playwright Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show, playing at On the Boards through Sunday night, Amelia Zirin-Brown (aka Lady Rizzo) performs this hilariously filthy solo, using only her pantomiming skills and her incredibly expressive face. It’s one of many truly funny moments in this show, which is performed entirely in the nude and with no dialogue. Lee says she starts all her plays by asking herself, “What’s the last play in the world I would want to make?” Certainly, an all-nude play about feminism sounds less like smart theater and more like homework for a women’s studies student (I know, I was one). But the miracle about Lee is that in starting from the vantage point of her own worst nightmare, she ends up creating plays that are edgy, insightful and funny.
Despite the fact that there are five naked women (and one naked person who is “gender-nonconforming”) leaping, rolling, slinking, humping, hugging, jiggling, dancing, fighting and rocking out for 60 minutes, the most lasting impression is that these performers—all talented dancers/cabaret singers/comedians in their own right—are having a helluva lot of fun on stage. There’s the glorious, headbanging heavy-metal solo performed by Hilary Clark, and the subsequent genius, slo-mo cat fight with Desiree Burch; the ensemble club-dance numbers embracing and skewering “sexy poses” and traditional female roles; and the drunken slurry vaudeville solo by Becca Blackwell—all emanate a palpable joy, not to mention humor, compassion and a perspective that’s wise without being righteous. All this paired with the bumpin’ soundtrack makes it hard to resist nuding up and joining the group on stage.
About the nekkidness! In so many performances, nudity is used either for shock value or in a misguided attempt to "deepen" a piece that can't seem to get out of the shallows. But in this case the nudity makes sense, given the prominence that the body—its weight, color, size, childbearing ability, clotheswearing ability, externally defined "womanliness"—plays in the female (and gender nonconforming) psyche. In the show, you simultaneously forget to notice the nudity after the first five minutes, and are also constantly aware of the intimacy, honesty and power it provides. It starts as a cliche and progresses to something real enough to feel in your bones.