The naked truth
Few things in theater sum up exactly how far we haven't come in our supposed sexual revolution than the palpable tension caused by a couple hundred people trying very hard not to look at a penis. You'd never know that flesh on stage is old news from the barely suffocated chorus of ahems that accompanies each full frontal. But if audiences still feel that illicit thrill, can the actors themselves be blas頡bout dropping trou? Well, yes and no.
"There was a sort of fear in the back of my mind," Jen Taylor says, "And I thought, 'Well, I'll deal with that later.'" Taylor is currently experiencing her first bit of literal stage exposure and is only one of the actors showing skin in Killer Joe, the disturbingly exhilarating thriller out at the Empty Space. She notes that other than that initial hesitation (and a chuckle that some high school friends were getting an eyeful), the discomfiting striptease she performs—as a dizzy virgin led into a seduction/rape by a hired assassin—doesn't actually register as anything shocking because she's simply "so involved in what's going on."
Kelly Boulware, letting it all hang out as the darkly handsome killer of the show's title, seconds that emotion. "My mind races at this bizarre white speed" on stage, he explains, but admits laughingly, "just before going on [I sometimes think], 'This is a stupid way to make your money.'" Both he and Taylor report hearing the occasional gasp and that, strangely, the experience is an odd release.
The word "freeing" comes up frequently to describe the quality of a stage flash. "Not in a '70s, Hair kind of way, but artfully," Shelley Reynolds, a hoot as the duplicitous, and, in the opening scene, pantyless stepmother, says by way of diffusing any of the word's sentiment. "It just helps launch me right into [character]."
"Some people's bodies are shaped like this," she further explains. "I think that's kind of cool. I kind of get a kick out of it." Boulware agrees: He's bared all for the love of theater several times and claims, "This time it's easier because I don't care what my body looks like." That's easy for him to say—the glimpse of his physique provides the kind of aesthetic pleasure most critics shy from mentioning. The audience, apparently, has no such qualms: An elderly attendee, happily shuffling out with her walker after a recent performance, was heard crowing to her companion, "It's so nice to see a naked man!"