Tongues are still wagging about the night in 1990 when Phoenix Theatre's curtain came up to reveal a giant naked man, his ass rouged and spotlighted in the first moments of the company's production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The derrière belonged to actor Christopher Wynn, and one of the gasps from the audience belonged to then-teenaged Damon Dering, today a well-regarded local director whose obsession with the play (and, in some ways, his own Nearly Naked Theatre company) was born on that night.
"It was amazing for me," recalls Dering, who's come full circle with his own production of Les Liaisons, opening this week. "PT was very conservative, so nudity wasn't something you expected to see. Plus I was still a kid, and Christopher Wynn was very handsome and very naked!"
Wynn, who now lives in New York, is surprised that people still remember his left buttock. "I guess it's all that bears remembering," he says, laughing. "The production wasn't very good, and I wasn't very good in it. This is a beautifully written play, but a tough one to pull off. The heroine is a villainess, but you have to root for her in order for the story to work. I don't know why people still want to do this play."
Because, Dering says, Les Liaisons is among the theater's great stories. "The success of every translation proves that," he argues. "We've added some new elements to our production -- I can't tell you what they are -- and of course beautiful actors with their clothes off is always fun."
But being naked in February was anything but fun, as Wynn recalls. "There was a lot of effort put into covering up my tan lines and bruises. And one has to make sure everything looks prepared, if you know what I mean. There's such a thing as too soft on stage."
Wynn remembers the 1990 Les Liaisons as the first time naked people appeared on the stage of Phoenix Theatre, then known as Phoenix Little Theatre. "I rather recall a screaming fight between the show's director and [then-artistic director] Tom Oldendick about me and my bare ass. The blocking was such that I was facing the audience, and every night the curtain would go up and I could hear old ladies hooting and see them fanning themselves. Only once did a biddy get up and head for the door."
Les Liaisons may have been PT's nudie bow, but it wasn't the first time Wynn appeared undraped on the stage. He once chased Marlo Thomas around a couch as the naked prostitute in a Chicago production of Six Degrees of Separation. "That was the best theater job I ever had, because Equity [the professional theater union] pays you more if you take your clothes off," Wynn says. "Plus I got to go home at 8:10 every night, because my naked scene was at the top of the play. Of course, any day now I'll probably hear about some guy in Chicago who started a theater company because he saw my dick in that play. Ah, the magic of theater!"