Robrt L. Pela's plea to Valley thespians: Keep yer pants on

Folded somewhere into the cramped coldness of my tiny mind is a virtual list titled Things I Hope Never to See Again. I've compiled this list over several decades as a reminder to myself of things I have seen before that have frightened or unnerved me.

Way at the top of the list is Your Vacation Photos. Seriously, pictures of you and your sister smiling sleepily in front of the monuments you visited in Verona are like a plague to me. I'd rather look at the polyps you had removed from your small intestine than at pictures of you standing in front of a pretty church in Nice or atop a burro in Guatemala. I get it. People like to go places. And once they get there, they want to be photographed sitting on fountains or in rice paddies to prove that they were there. Just keep these sleep-inducing images away from me.

A little lower on my list is Undraped Bosoms on the Stage. Just below that is Your Dick. Honestly, I just don't want to look at you with your clothes off unless there's a really good reason, like perhaps your trousers were on fire and you had to remove them, or you're appearing in a play set in a bath house. If there's some reason for nudity, as in The Full Monty, a musical I saw for the third time last weekend, then fine — whip your togs off. But gratuitous nakedness is just kind of creepy to me.

My dislike for needless nudity is less about my own prudishness than it is about the fact that the nude people found onstage are usually the last people on Earth who should be parading around naked. I once saw a production of Jeffrey, a story populated almost entirely by humpy guys, in which all the actors were profoundly out of shape and in various stages of undress. And I've spent a decade trying to blot from my mind the stretch marks of a supremely talented middle-aged actress who'd given birth only weeks before running around in her altogether in an Equity production of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.

At least actresses have the advantage of genitals that don't suffer from stage fright. I want desperately to forget the sight of the poor fellow who, halfway through an especially trying production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (which was set, for reasons I've since forgotten, in an athletic club) yanked off his jock strap to reveal what appeared to be a thimble wearing a clown wig. (Note to directors: if you absolutely insist on making your leading man remove his underpants on stage, could you also request a little grooming prior to opening night?)

Nearly Naked Theatre, one of my favorite local troupes, has it figured out. They almost always make us look at some ingénue's rack or some poor thespian's twanger, but manage always to somehow work this nakedness into the story. Anything else seems downright distasteful to me, and hugely unfair to both audience and actors.

Perhaps the way to ensure that I never have to look at another unnecessarily unclothed crotch would be to show up au naturel myself one night at the theater. Exposed from the waist down or — horrors! — stripped to the waist, my middle-aged paunch providing a resting place for my critic's notepad, I would be an unforgettable sight that would, I promise you, guarantee fewer superfluous strippings on stage.

Tit for tat, so to speak.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela