Nudity is always shocking on stage; it is one of the fastest and most aggressive ways to mount an assault on the so-called fourth wall that separates spectators from performers. We are real people, the naked shout, as they expose their birth marks and their tan lines, their breasts and their pubic hair. It’s a trick, and it can seem a pretty cheap one unless the nudity has something more to say.
And that brings us to a show full of nudity that is, unfortunately, wordless. Created by the experimental American theatre director Young Jean Lee and stopping briefly at Harbourfront, Untitled Feminist Show begins as six naked women appear on stage. Some of them are lithe and lean; others are gloriously fleshy; none of them conform to Vogue’s idea of a good swimsuit model.
Their mere appearance in all their imperfect beauty is a bold statement about the objectification of women while their little dances and pantomimes, full of asides that spoof the way a female performer presents herself to an audience, offer a cheeky take on the subject. And that’s about it.
There simply isn’t enough material in their movements to advance their theme: quickly the shock of their nudity is replaced by nothing more than a certain freshness which in turn has worn off before an hour is up. They recount some kind of fairy tale about a witch but they would have to be better mimes for the full import of the story to be clear. Amelia Zirin-Brown does some obscene clown work where she supposedly catches the eye of men in the audience and then suggests she perform an escalating catalogue of sex acts on them. The piece is amusing, but its critique of male fantasy is never advanced as the show moves on to its next number.
Similarly, Becca Blackwell, the one person here who does not identify as a woman and prefers to be called by the personal pronoun “they,”, touchingly poses as a burlesque dancer, a boxer and finally a frightened figure covering breasts and genitals with hands. The impact would be much greater, however, if the piece did not seem repetitious of an earlier segment in which the cast mimed female roles.
The performers all gather in a tight group at one point to shake and jiggle their varied bodies; it’s effective choreography but when the next number features a jiggling Jen Rosenblit running out into the audience, approaching spectators and shaking her long hair and dangling breasts at them, the show starts to feel like some theatre school improv session that has gone on too long. It seems telling that Lee could not come up with a less generic name for all this than Untitled Feminist Show.