"Shakespeare has damned us all!" shouts a passionate actor at the onset of Now That You've Seen Me Naked, a collection of 15 thin vignettes about the joys and travails of romantic relationships. With a manic laugh, the actor (Chris J. Handley) announces that the Bard has doomed us with his tales of melodramatic, tempestuous, and eternal love. In the tradition of such revues as Off-Broadway's I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, Now That You've Seen Me Naked strives to make light of our amorous fumblings by showing us how silly our expectations can be. It's neither as witty nor as satisfying as its peers, and, although it has moments of the crude and profane, the tame content is no match for its salacious title. These fluffy scenes make for an entertaining, but often frustrating, evening of theater.
Written by a team of 10 writers (including three members of the small acting ensemble), these scenes can usually be reduced to one hackneyed phrase. For example, "men and women should have their own bathrooms," "men prefer less complicated food choices," and (surprise!) "during the same conversation, a man and a woman might really be thinking about completely different things."
With so many narrative voices, the scenes vary in scope and success. Director Evan Heird keeps things moving at a sprightly pace, but the jokes often fall flat and too many of the wispy songs lack solid melodies. The actors also represent a wide spectrum of acting abilities, and their levels of conviction differ as they execute this uneven material.
Still, there are several creative takes on relationships and a handful of memorable performances. In "I've Been Replaced," a man (the energetic Handley) sings a frenzied song of anxiety when he accidentally discovers an instrument of manual stimulation in his girlfriend's nightstand. Handley winningly whines and gesticulates with the elongated purple prop.
The comedy also succeeds in the short, pithy "Vending Machine." When a woman (Rachel McPhee) inserts coins, she ejects two men (Ryan Hyde and Handley) who reward her with the things women wish men would say. "I see your point, and, what's more, I understand it," the men coo. The woman reacts with orgasmic glee.
And in one of the longest—and best—scenes, two sleazy men compete for the title of "Mr. Lounge Lizard." Brilliant comedienne Amy Albert slurs her words admirably as the furred and sequined host, and the competitors (Hyde and Perryn Pomatto) compete in the categories of pickup line, loungewear, and talent. Selected members of the audience vote for their favorite at each performance, and Hyde took the title the night I was there. The award was well deserved: with studious, gum-snapping appeal, his lecherous stares, smarmy pickup lines, and persuasive ballad created a compelling and precise comic parody.
The performance achieves a snappy ending with "Love as Performance Art," in which the black-clad ensemble writhes about the stage as an esoteric beatnik group. As the performers shout out bizarre phrases that all ostensibly link back to love, the scene makes a witty comment on the absurdity of our attempts to describe romance.
But although the performance seems to end here, it continues with the lackluster "Coffee Break," in which the ensemble extols the virtues of coffee to the tune of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." This lengthy interpretation craftily substitutes "cup of java!" for "hallelujah!," but the scene's uncertain motivation brings the production to an unsatisfying conclusion.
So where does any of this leave us? Now That You've Seen Me Naked makes a sweet—if slight—impression, but it would be refreshing to see a revue that explores relationships in more novel ways and with less slavish devotion to tired assumptions about the myopic ways of male/female couplings. If Shakespeare has truly primed us for failure, then perhaps we should write ourselves new stories instead of perpetuating the ones we already know by heart.