A Rant on The Rarity of Catharsis in Our Lives and the Removal of Our Clothes in “Disrobed — The Virtual Event”

By Ernest Kearney — What is often forgotten or overlooked — especially in our culture so devoted to the immediate and momentary sensorial impact typically found within the remoteness offered by our social media or cell phones — is that the theatre, the Queen of arts, was meant to function as a communal experience, one that would challenge both societies and individuals to emerge from it transformed.

Theatre offers catharsis

Catharsis, from the Greek “katharsis” is derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, meaning “the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.”

But it was not a term that Aristotle coined. It comes from an older Greek medical term kathairein, meaning “purgation,” and its association was with the feminine menstrual cycle.

Hence, its truest meaning, “catharsis” is a cleansing of the spirit that allows for rebirth.

Theatre at its essence is intended to grant us a method to be “reborn,” to present us with an experience that guarantees who we are before the house lights dim is not who we will be after witnessing the production and finding ourselves returned to, and basking in the illumination of, the fully lit venue.

Now, even among the Greeks, this was a rare event, but I have been fortunate in encountering productions in which I actually experienced this:
The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s Baal in 1980, with Ron Sosi as Baal no less.

Murray Mednick’s Coyote Cycle, a work based on Native American mythology that ran from midnight to dawn at the old Paramount Ranch and featured the massed and massive talents of Christine Avila, Priscilla Cohen, Norbert Weisser with Darrell Larson as Coyote.

American Piece by the Provisional Theatre, a disjunction of the Company Theatre, arguably the greatest theatrical troupe Los Angeles has ever generated.
Don’t be mislead here, catharsis is seldom a question of the quality or even merits of a show — American Piece was a few actors and a lot of painted cardboard, Coyote Cycle was seven hours long and a lot of walking, and Baal, Bertolt Brecht’s first work, is not a very good play.

But all of these were works that opened my eyes to the power of the stage, or my soul to some awareness hidden by that expansiveness of possibilities that lurks within our humanity.

Now, before the great plague descended on us (and here I mean Covid not Trump) I had been planning to write about another show, which certainly promised the chance of catharsis, and bring it to the attention of my readers; Disrobed or Why So Clothes-Minded?

Be forewarned this is a propaganda play for “Naturism.”

Best we start with its genesis:

Playwright Tom Cushing (1879 – 1941) was an American by the name of Charles Cyprian Strong Cushing, and with a moniker like that it’s understandable why he opted for “Tom.”

Cushing’s playwriting career was checkered to say the least.

In 1921 he adapted the Spanish novel Sangre y arena (1908) for Broadway which was later made into the silent classic with Rudolph Valentino, and his 1926 play with the intriguing title The Devil in the Cheese which was notable for the appearance of Bela Lugosi.

Cushing’s interest in “Naturism” first displayed itself (hmmm, poor choice of words there) back in his days at Yale, when in 1902 he produced a show involving male students running around in the school ground’s forest with only feathers about their waists.

For the uninitiated “Naturism” is the science, some would say philosophy, of hygiène de vie or “healthy living,” through the practice of nudism.

The French practice of Naturisme moved to Britain and the United States in the 1930s and thus Cushing’s interest in Naturism found a full voice in 1926 with his stage comedy Barely Proper: An Unplayable Play, described as: A “cute play about an English lad falling in love with a German girl at University, [the lad] doesn’t find out she comes from a nudist family until that fateful first visit to the girl’s home.”

The German patriarch of the heroine’s family, Herr Schmidt proclaims to his daughter’s self-conscious Brit beau, “If the good God thought we ought to have clothes, we’d have been born with them…. Why, my boy, you’ve never breathed till you’ve breathed with your whole body. The dawn is at hand! Fig leaves are falling!”

It has been argued that the late great Allan Sherman and Albert Hague’s 1968 musical, The Fig Leaves Are Falling? which provided David Cassidy his Broadway debut, took its title from this line.

Forty years after its composition, Barely Proper: An Unplayable Play finally played on Broadway under the title Grin and “Bare” It.

L.A. audiences were to be given the chance to experience Cushing’s naturalist work in a new adaptation Disrobed, Why So Clothes-Minded? by Steven Vlasak in a production presented by the Southern California Naturist Association (SCNA) which announces its mission project as “promote (ing) and encourage (ing) clothing-optional recreation and personal growth opportunities for all ages through our educational outreach programs.”

The stage show was helmed by Brian Knudson, a member in good standing with SCNA for over a decade. Knudson has staged clothing-optional productions for three of the Hollywood Fringe Festivals and considers his one-man crusade to be: “nude socialism.”

Oh, did you catch that?

“Clothing-optional productions.”

Like those on the stage… so those in the audience: “In puris naturalibus,” “leafless,” “in nature’s garb.” “in one’s birthday suit,” “naked as your nail,” “wearing a smile….” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, the audience is required to “grin and “bare” it” as well.

And, I was all ready to trumpet that production because it would have offered L.A. theatre audiences that rare opportunity of testing their own limits and placing themselves in a position where catharsis would be entirely possible.

Alas, it was not to be.

With Knudson’s blessing, his collaborator Vlasak joined forces with Director/Writer/Actor Troy Peterson, another adherent to “Naturism” to rework the show for presentation in this time of quarantine.


Working with Vlasak, a talented writer of such works as Nights at the Algonquin Round Table, Peterson sought to reform the stage play about a family’s first meeting with their daughter’s beau into a zoom call.

The cast gives their all to this undertaking with Peterson as the “clothed-minded” Boston-bound boyfriend meeting the liberated and very nude family (Ian Hayes, Shaley Gunther, Dave McClain and Karen Lasater) of his beloved, (played by the show’s highpoint Eloise Gordon). Unfortunately the power conveyed by a live stage is not there on the Zoom screen: Has anyone ever been transformed by a Tweet?

The best efforts of all involved only makes the ache of missing live performances all that more acute.

Still, it has moments, and it is an odd little bit of theatre history.

Someday, this time of isolation will end. And when it does I, for one, will be rushing out to see every production that’s offered. I don’t care if it’s an all-female reboot of The Odd Couple at a local community theatre, I’ll be the first in line at the box office.

I hope when that time comes Knudson returns with his live productions intending to provide an “antidote (especially in Sunny Southern California) to the toxicity of body shame, low self-esteem and Hollywood’s high standard of physical beauty.”

It is a noble quest.

(NOTE: In Featured Image – (L to R:) Eloise Gordon, Shaley Gunther, Troy Peterson, Karen Lasater, Dave McClain, Ian Hayes)


Information and tickets are available at: www.Disrobed2021.com

Disrobed: The Virtual Event

Written by Steven Vlasak & Troy Peterson

Adapted from “Barely Proper” by Tom Cushing

Directed by Troy Peterson

Assistant Directed by Bella Hicks

Presented by Troy Matthew Peterson Productions and the Southern California Naturist Association.

Recommended for Ages 17+. Includes nudity. Viewer Discretion is advised.


55 minutes, with the link for streaming emailed to all ticket purchasers one hour before show time. Only one “ticket” is required for each household or streaming device.


Three shows only:

Friday, January 15, 2021, 7:00 PST

Saturday, January 16, 2021, 7:00 PST

Sunday matinee, January 17, 2021, 12:00 noon PST

Tickets at $10.00 per device are available at:



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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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