Fashion Risk despite copious nudity is adorable not prurient; a funny celebration of human beings and their bodies - 5 stars
Natalie Rae Wass is a fantastic and funny performer. Fringe audiences and Minnesota theater audiences in general already knew that. With her current Fringe hit Fashion Risk, or The Accidental Nudist, she takes fantastic and funny to a whole new level.
"He was banned from his church for repeatedly pointing out scriptural discrepancies he genuinely wanted to understand - and also for packing heat."
The great thing about Fashion Risk is Natalie didn't just throw some nudity onstage so she could generate some buzz and make a quick Fringe buck (though both of those things are certainly happening). A lot of Fringe shows show some skin as a gimmick. Get a nudity warning and you're sure to titillate a potential audience.
"I'm a nudist-sympathetic textile."
But Fashion Risk is about celebrating the human body as a part of celebrating human beings. Our bodies are big part of what makes us who we are. Bodies aren't just about sex. They're not something secret or shameful to be tucked safely away behind layers of clothing. Bodies, of all shapes, sizes and ages, are beautiful things. So why not put it out there?
"I know some of you are probably thinking about boners right now."
(Trombone player enters eagerly)
Natalie's parents, Nancy and Nathan, are a key part of the mostly nude cast surrounding Natalie as she tells her tale. Also disrobing for a good cause are Lou Alvarado, Jesse Corder, Kate Hoff, Katie Ross, Rachel Schwartz, Erin Sheppard (also the choreographer), Gurayn Sylte, and Lauren Vork. The show eases us into the nudity. At first it's just people strolling by on their way to perhaps play some nude tennis.
"I love hugs. They say, 'I'm willing to be close to you, even when you're a mess.'"
As the story continues, people start coming out on stage and setting up camp. Some are sunning themselves, some are grilling for a picnic, some are playing the accordion or trombone, some are meditating, some are practicing their golf putt, some are beach combing with a metal detector. By the end, there's a full-on, all nude celebratory dance number. But along the way, the presence of these people on stage keeps reinforcing Natalie's main point, that it's important to be comfortable in your own skin.
"Every crack in expectation creates possibility."
Natalie does a great job of subverting audience expectations - not just around the subject and presence of nudity in the show. It's not a cheat. It's just not what you thought of when you thought, "Fringe show about nudists." Actually, I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking when I thought, "Fringe show about nudists." To be honest, if it was almost anyone other than Natalie Rae Wass leading this show, I might have skipped it. But because of Natalie, I knew it wouldn't be your average Fringe show showing a little skin (or in this case, a lot of skin). I knew there was a reason Natalie was telling this story, in this way, now.
"Dressing is a learned behavior."
Natalie holds the stage and tells her story, largely uninterrupted, for the full length of the show. Not a stumble, not a gaffe. Just smooth sailing and her signature comic timing and sensibility. Natalie does this with such poise and quirky grace that you're liable to forget just how difficult it is to do something like that, much less hold the audience's attention when the stage is full of naked people. The story of Natalie's upbringing, and the insights she shares into nudist culture, are enormously entertaining as well as informative.
(Audience groans, squirms a bit)
"I don't like it either but it's true."
My mom has been commenting on how interesting the Fringe is this year in offering up all sorts of human bodies on display. Not just your skinny, perfectly toned actor bodies, but "normal" human beings with bumps and curves and a little extra here and there. Fashion Risk keeps this trend going, and provides a whole host of additional options to the mix.
"There is this part where Adam and Eve overthink their way out of a nude utopia."
And really, that's the gift Natalie and Fashion Risk are giving Fringe audiences this year. Sure, a show with nudity might be selling out every performance anyway, but I think Fashion Risk is selling out not just because of a little skin. I think Fashion Risk is selling tickets because word is getting out - it's a charming lead performance in a piece that helps everyone be just a little less self-conscious about the space they take up in the world. And we need a lot more of both.
And any show with a pink gorilla suit is OK by me.
5 stars, Very Highly Recommended
Next show, today, Tuesday 8/6 at 8:30pm (but reserve a ticket in advance, the show has been selling out every performance)
For more information, check out their Fringe show page