There’s a delicious irony to the fact that a show about mundane, unremarkable nudity has become the sensation of the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival in large part because of the copious nudity it contains.
That’s not to imply that nudity is the only, or main, reason Natalie Rae Wass’s Fashion Risk or the Accidental Nudist is selling out every performance at Mixed Blood Theatre, but it’s certainly the case that the show’s “quite a lot of nudity, although not exclusively nudity and no sex or profanity” helped to move it to the top of a lot of queues of Fringegoers who might not otherwise have given special notice to yet another personal history about a quirky family and an identity crisis.
In Fashion Risk, Wass—a longtime standby of the local theater scene—opens up about her upbringing in rural England. Her parents Nathan and Nancy Wass gamely play themselves, frequently au naturel. If there’s anything more that a father can reasonably be asked to give his daughter than performing nude in a show in which his posture is likened to that of a baby elephant rearing up on its hind legs, I don’t know what it is.
The show is charming and good-natured, peppered with insights into the naturist lifestyle as seen from the perspective of a woman who describes herself as a nudist-friendly “textile” (the insiders’ term for one who feels most comfortable when clothed). Wass’s theme—that one should wear whatever makes one feel most like oneself, whether that’s a zoot suit or a birthday suit—is nicely conveyed, though the first half of the show, describing her various schoolgirl wardrobes, drags.
As for the nudity, the several performers who lounge about in the buff certainly lend verisimilitude to the proceedings, and make the show’s last scene one of the more memorable non sequiturs you’re likely to encounter at this year’s Fringe, but in this case less might have been more: the naked people are amusing and effective when illustrating particular phenomena Wass is explaining, but when they’re just lying around while the fully-clothed Wass tries to hold the audience’s attention, they distract. Nudity might be yawn-inducing when you’re in a nudist colony, but when you’re sitting in a theater in the middle of Minneapolis, a naked person is hard to ignore. (Among the performers is Daily Planet Fringe blogger Kate Hoff, who notes in the program that the name her blog has had for ten years—Full Frontal Fringe—”finally makes sense.”)
Those inspired to sample the clothes-free lifestyle for themselves are invited to consider Avatan, “Minnesota’s largest (and friendliest) nudist club,” which is prominently advertised on the back of the Fashion Risk program. The club’s website describes many of the activities attested to by Wass: “poolside Bingo, pool or sand volleyball games, petanque, pancake breakfasts, burger barbecues, dances, movie nights, bonfires and on and on.” FYI, though: “Membership for single males is currently at the limit.”
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