Nude Scene

When English playwright Harold Pinter wrote his dark comedy Hothouse in the winter of 1958, he shelved it as a "fantasy." But in 1980, he pulled it off the shelf, as the newly exposed reality of the mental health system made it suddenly relevant.

Twenty-two years later, it's being offered up by emerging local theater troupe Nearly Naked Theatre. Artistic director Damon Dering named the troupe after its humble beginnings. "When we started, we had no money, no costumes," he explains. "We were literally nearly naked." Nearly Naked's past seasons were marked by thought-provoking, though not necessarily profitable, selections. But as Dering maintains, "We just got sick of doing Annie."

Hothouse is set on Christmas Day in a mental institution, where the keepers are decidedly more insane than the kept. In typical Pinter double-speak replete with the now-infamous "Pinter pauses," Hothouse satirizes what Dering terms "the inane bureaucracy of the mental health profession." Dering wanted to produce the show as a challenge to both his actors and his audience. "This stuff is dark," he says. "You don't want to laugh at it, but you do — you can't help it."

Director Tim Butterfield, who acts as producing director for Nearly Naked, chose Hothouse because "the ending doesn't get sewn up for you — you don't find out the mystery at the end."

This is Nearly Naked's second show in The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre, where Dering is negotiating to secure a home for the 2002-'03 season — a move that appears likely. "It's more expensive than other spaces we've used, which is scary for a small company, but it's a great space," he says. Butterfield is also happy to be in the well-equipped space. "It's nice having things like lighting equipment, dressing rooms, seats," he says, "you know, luxuries like that."

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Quetta Carpenter