Telluride Inside... And Out In Denver: "My Naked Truth"

Mrs Robinson Fox
Tracy Shaffer as Mrs. Robinson

Editor's note: Telluride Inside…and Out now has a regular Denver contributor, Tracy Shaffer, for readers who may want a big city fix. Tracy is an abundantly talented playwright and well-known actress around the Mile High City, currently starring as the original coyote, Mrs. Robinson, in "The Graduate," which we got to see last Saturday (February 13). White hot always cool Tracy, not Benjamin, was the show's center of gravity, its heft and its raison d'etre. In a sleek production with minimal sets, the other rest of the cast became props to set off Mrs. Robinson's aria. The director, John Ashton, seemed to have pushed everyone else over the top to create cultural stereotypes of the 1960s  – The Successful, Golf-Playing Dutiful Dad; the Well-Intentioned, Hysterical Mom; the Rebellious Son. These contemporary riffs on Chaucer's archetypes allow the story of a complex woman's complex relationship with her daughter to emerge with greater understanding. Denver Post critic John Moore saw it differently: he saw underwear. We see his perspective as the emperor's new clothes, which Tracy describes in her  "Naked Truth."

My Naked Truth: Sex, power and ticket sales

by Tracy Shaffer

Much ado about wearing nothing in the Aurora Fox Theatre’s production of "The Graduate." In his Sunday column, Denver Post theatre critic John Moore took the Fox to task for "copping out" and clothing the star (though scantily) to suit its subscribers. The conversation was off and running.

The decision about the nudity was made before I signed on. I was aware of what was called for in the script and being a professional actress/playwright I would have bucked up (or 'buffed up') and done it. Frankly, I am not a fan of unauthorized alterations to the script, never met a playwright who was. I find additions, subtractions and "improvements" to plays by other theatre artists disrespectful at the least, hubris if I'm being overly dramatic.

Wearing many hats I must remember which one crowns my head in the moment. When hired as an actress my job is not to be playwright police, when hired as a playwright my job is to protect and serve my work. Writers have unions and guilds to prevent these changes and recourse for them when they are made but the absentee playwright is often slack-jawed on opening night. Happens in film, happens in TV… where there's a writer, there's a well-meaning goon who thinks he can edit. 

To me, disregarding the author's intent is the equivalent of an actor ignoring direction. It says ‘you may have your job, but I know it better’. What if, for example, as “Mrs. Robinson” I chose to take the same liberty and enter one evening stark naked? These things happen in all kinds of theatres all the time as the hierarchy of theatre is slightly askew. We mouth that the playwright is queen and claim to serve the play… until there’s a budget cut or “a better idea”, then respect for the writer goes over Juliet’s balcony.

The line of demarcation here is intent. Does deleting the stage direction of nudity alter the action of the scene or the impact the characters? Does it make my “Mrs. Robinson” less seductive, powerful or desperate? I don't think so. Would it be more shocking and intimate if I were standing buck naked in front of Benjamin? Yes. But the real vulnerability would have happened between us, in rehearsal, long before the audience filed in. I'm sure there are many theaters in America where the nudity of the woman on stage would be critical to the quality of the show. I don't think that would apply in this case, as our set contains no pole. Theatre ethics and theatrical risk aside, the real and most important question here is this: would the show receive more stars if I showed my tits? The answer: Duh!

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