Arts Desk

In Time for Hair: A Brief History of Kennedy Center Nudity

Fine, so 43 years after its Off Broadway debut, Hair doesn't feel so revolutionary. That itself isn't a revolutionary thought—the Post's Peter Marks noted it in his review of the touring production that just landed at the Kennedy Center. Also not so button-pushing anymore: the scene at the end of Act 1 in the '60s-counterculture musical, in which the cast appears entirely in the buff.

If you're looking for some onstage nudity that'll actually make you feel uncomfortable—and I mean really uncomfortable—I'd sooner point you to Kelly Bond's Elephant, showing this week as part of Fall Fringe. But you have to admit: It's strange seeing naked bodies in D.C.'s most august—and by reputation, conservative—cultural institution.

Turns out, though, that there's been quite a lot of theatrical nudity at the Kennedy Center over the years. Thankfully, the Kennedy Center's press shop decided to humor my very awkward query, and provided a list. It's probably not complete, warns John Dow, the director of KenCen's press office. "We don't keep records on this kind of thing." From the top:

Jumpers | 1974
Tom Stoppard's satirical play about philosophy professors made its U.S. premiere in the Eisenhower Theater. In the play, Dow says, "a young, poker-faced secretary performs a striptease while hanging from a rope." Complicated! Maybe too much. Reviewing Jumpers for the New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote that the play could've used a bit more time in previews. "'Jumpers' is a play that should be seen. But not, I would say, yet. Let this production hang around a little."

Platinum: A Musical | 1978

A pre-Broadway engagement of the musical about a fading film star who tries to make a go of it in the recording industry. "The nudity was backside," says Dow: Richard Cox, entering a jacuzzi. The Washington Post was impressed with Cox's performance as Dan Danger—"A compelling actor, Richard Cox plays Dan with an honesty that makes his [protagonist] Lila liaison plausible and he sticks to realism for his nude duck in the Jacuzzi," Richard L. Coe wrote. He didn't love the musical, though: Platinum, he wrote, "has dazzling advantages, flashy novelties and the ultimate in technical equipment. But it badly lacks a sense of direction."

Toyer | 1983

Torture porn before it was bankable. This play in the Eisenhower Theater about "a chap in Los Angeles who performs lobotomies on young women" starred Brad Davis and Kathleen Turner, but it was another actress—we couldn't find who (readers: anyone remember?)—who showed her backside to the audience.

Vienna: Lusthaus | 1986

The brainchild of Martha Clarke: a performance piece, mostly dance and movement, that expressed her vision of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Joe Brown's Washington Post review describes one of the play's central images: "Two lovely nude women, their backs to the audience, tenderly caress each other, then glance accusingly or questioningly over their shoulders at the audience/voyeurs." For a separate WaPo article at the time, one of the women, dancer Marie Fourcaut, described Clarke's instructions for the scene. "She said to imagine you are beautiful pieces of fruit."

Wit | 2000

Spoiler alert: The main character of this play by Margaret Edson dies at the end, and walks naked toward a white light—in the national production that stopped by the Kennedy Center, Judith Light played that role, of a professor suffering from ovarian cancer. The quick description from Washington City Paper critic Trey Graham: "Glorious, defiant full-frontal nudity in the last few seconds of the play."

The Canterbury Tales, Part II  | 2006

True to the source material, one vignette in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the Chaucer classic contained a mooning.

A Streetcar Named Desire | 2008

A staged tableau following the infamous rape scene contained Joel Edgerton as Stanley, lying naked face down on a bed, with Cate Blanchett's Blanche lying next to him.

Spring Awakening | 2009

The national tour of the rock musical contained male bare-bottom nudity and female top nudity. "It's very weird to categorize all these," Dow told me.

The Lisbon Traviata | 2009
A man walks in on his boyfriend during his tryst with another man. Awkward!

Hair | 2010

You'll just have to go see it, I guess.
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