Naked Truth

By Darcie J. Flansburg

Posted May 20, 2010 in Arts & Culture

Playwright Laura Shamas endeavored to answer some thought-provoking questions about artistic expression vs. political correctness in her 1995 play Portrait of a Nude.

The play traces issues of censorship, political correctness and aesthetics surrounding Francisco Goya’s 1798 painting Naked Maja. As Shamas put it, the play follows “the history of response to Francisco Goya’s masterpiece Naked Maja from the time of its inception in 1798 in Spain to the recent sexual harassment case surrounding it in 1991 at an American university.”

All of the elements of the play are based on real events which lead Shamas to ask “is our response to art really based on the work itself, or on the ‘politically correct’ values of our times?”

Shamas believes our response to art is subjective, which is why the Naked Maja caused such tension between artistic expression and social propriety, as one critic put it.

Riverside Community Players’ production of Portrait of a Nude presents Shamas’ vision with great ardor. Director Kathryn L. Gage cast a strong group of actors that were able to portray everything from Goya to Princess Diana to schoolboys and clerks, all using a variety of accents to accomplish their many roles.

Mel Chadwick plays Goya, the writer Zola, a museum guard and dean of a university. Chadwick is a regular at the Redlands Footlighters theatre and is best known for his comedic ability on stage, but in Portrait Chadwick showed a comedic lightheartedness as Goya and a political passion as Zola—factors that later transpired into a genuine realness in his other roles.

Phillip Gabriel is a master of accents and comedic timing. His portrayal of the Spanish Inquisitor was harsh and demeaning while his portrayal of the painter Manet was capricious and yet full of conviction. Gabriel showed his campy side as the schoolboy and brought out his inner frat boy as one of the university students.

Kevin Bray was equally harsh and demeaning as the other Spanish inquisitor, but he was able to show his passionate side as poet Baudelaire and as the Spanish Official. Sue Bray was perfectly seductive as Maria, the subject of Goya’s painting, and she also showed earnestness as Princess Diana and a vehement passion as the university campus Affirmative Action representative. And Rory Dyer rounded out the cast as the good-intentioned university professor as well as the salacious Victorine, the subject of Manet’s painting, influenced by Goya.

Though some of the accents could have been stronger, the ensemble presented a range of talent in a variety of roles that really showed all of their stage ability.

The show included projections of the paintings and pictures of the places being referenced in the play during the minimal set changes. And Technical Director Tom Hurst and Costume Coordinators Rory and Ted Dyer provided a smooth and aesthetic presentation of the many settings.

The production exhibited pure professionalism; from the acting to the direction to the tech, the show was captivating and well executed. I was engaged, entertained and enlightened by this production; a truly magnificent work of art.

Portrait of a Nude by Laura Shamas, Riverside Community Players, 4026 14th St., Riverside, (951) 686-4030; Through May 30 (2PM and 8PM shows). $15 general admission.


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