Los Angeles Theater Review: NAKED BEFORE GOD ([Inside] the Ford in Hollywood)

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by Barnaby Hughes on April 1, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Nudity can have a sacred character to it, depending on one’s motives. There are Christian nudist colonies, for example, whose goal is to return humankind to its prelapsarian state, that is, to be as naked and innocent as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In The Dream Team (1989), Christopher Lloyd’s character walks around naked, quoting Scripture to those who gawk at him (Hebrews 4:13). The passage of Scripture in question, however, has nothing to do with being physically naked. It refers, rather, to the fact that God sees the motives of each person’s heart. The title of Leo Geter’s play Naked Before God, which is derived from the exact same Scripture, should be interpreted in the latter sense of inner nudity, of having one’s conscience laid bare. Physical nudity is not manifested often in the play, unless one considers bare-chested men to be nude.

Circle X Theatre Co.’s production of Naked Before God at [Inside] the Ford marks the world premiere of Geter’s play, which he also directs. It also happens to be the first full production to come out of the Circle X Writers’ Group. From the play’s farcical plot to its timeless themes, Naked Before God could only have come out of southern California, despite being set during a single day in Phoenix, AZ. Its characters work in pornography, seek fame and fortune, use and abuse religion and seem to be in trouble with the law.

Kristen (Jennifer A. Skinner) is a former porn actress who, before heading off to work at Dunkin Donuts, coaches her son Duncan (Morgan McClellan) for his first porn audition. Living with mother and son is Duncan’s much older and pregnant wife, Carly (Jen Kays), an ex-stripper turned nurse. Oddly enough, she doesn’t seem to mind him banging guys on film as long as he doesn’t contract any STDs.

These three characters alone provide enough material for a decent play, but Geter keeps adding more to the mix. First, Duncan brings home from the audition Nick (Christopher Foley), the first guy Duncan has ever had sex with. They’re an interesting pair of opposites, Nick only pretending to be naïve and straight, while Duncan is truly both.

Kristen has invited a mystery guest for dinner; while preparations are being made, Duncan’s estranged father – and Kristen’s ex-husband – Vinnie (Larry Clarke) shows up with Octavio (Aly Mawji). Both show up in full Army fatigues claiming to have just arrived from Afghanistan. Octavio, it later comes to light, is not Hispanic, but the son of a high-ranking Afghan, and Vinnie has smuggled him out of the country. Although Skinner dominates much of the show as Kristen, Larry Clarke’s arrival on stage as Vinnie nearly steals it from her. He is large, commanding and more likeable. While some of the actors have a tendency to overact, Clarke’s performance is more balanced and controlled.

Finally, Kristen’s mystery man, Barry (William Salyers), arrives into this homecoming, introducing himself as the host of a Christian radio show. Together, Kristen and Barry have hatched a plan for her to write a tell-all book about her porn past and her newfound Christian faith. You can imagine how those around her react with a mixture of shock, horror and skepticism. When Barry announces the possibility of making a reality show as well, reactions are different yet again. At first, one wants to dismiss Barry as a charlatan; he looks more like a washed-up hippie, with his balding pate, pony tail and sandals. Yet, Barry really does believe what he professes, though there is something in his past that is never fully brought to light. William Salyers brilliantly portrays this complex character. He may not make us like Barry, but he does earn our grudging respect for him.

Comedic writing adds layer upon layer of laughs and further enjoyment to Geter’s wildly escalating plot. Sometimes the comedy is in the props, as when Kristen teaches her son to sterilize dildos. Other times it’s in the absurdity of the situation (a father critiquing his son’s porn performance), the dimwittedness of a character (Duncan) or a simple gesture (Octavio’s eyes at the mention of homosexual Afghans). Some of the comedy is over the top, as when Kristen and Vinnie can be heard having passionate sex offstage or when Octavio eagerly strips down and dives into the pool after Nick. One of the things that makes Naked Before God truly cathartic and unusual, however, is being able to laugh about pornography in public.

Even as some characters could use fleshing-out (especially Duncan, Nick and Octavio), Leo Geter has written an engaging, entertaining and incredibly funny play, which is brought admirably to life by Circle X. The set, designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, is a fully working kitchen/living room opening onto a rear patio with barbecue that easily transforms into a suburban backyard with pool in the second half. The whole production is tightly focused and vividly realistic, despite a plot that seems to spiral out of control towards the end. Yet, it is only by applying pressure to the characters in this way that each one’s true motives are revealed and exposed to the audience. Naked Before God, then, is not a play about redemption, as if Kristen has been redeemed from her porn star past, but about examination of conscience, standing naked in the sight of God.

photos by Chelsea Coleman

Naked Before God

Circle X Theatre Co. at [Inside] the Ford in Hollywood (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on April 28
for tickets, visit http://www.fordtheatres.org


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