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THEATER REVIEW : 'Nature Girls' Strips Away Stereotypes

August 31, 1994|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Judging from the title, "Sacred Naked Nature Girls" could be the theatrical equivalent of a Russ Meyer movie. However, the piece, which is currently playing at Highways as part of its annual "ecce lesbo/ecce homo" festival of lesbian and gay performance art, is aptly named. The performers are completely naked throughout the show. They are certainly natural--no full-body makeup in evidence here. They are all female. And, by the evening's end, one realizes, with a little start of surprise, that they are indeed somewhat sacred.

This is not a structured, linear work, nor is it particularly disciplined in terms of pacing or text. However, the limitations in craft and continuity do not detract from the overall effect, which is rough, risky, uproarious and occasionally wrenching.

The performers--Danielle Brazell, Laura Meyers, Akilah Nayo Oliver and Denise Uyehara (regular company member Bella Hui is absent from this engagement)--work in what they have termed the "flesh memory" process. At times, the result is playful; a woman, engaged in exuberant sex with her partner, makes her voice ever tinier and breathier in order to feel truly "feminine." At other times, the result is painful; two women engage in simultaneous rape fantasy/recollections--one ecstatic, the other horrifying. In the most beautiful and dramatic image of the evening, the small, ravaged silhouette of a rape victim, projected on the wall, merges into the towering nude shadow of a bountiful, benevolent mother.

The Nature Girls strip more than clothes away from the female form. They also strip away the crudeness and lewdness with which nude women are portrayed in most media. These women are not the airbrushed objects of male fantasy. They are the proud exponents of their own sexual agendas, with figure "flaws" defiantly intact.

The ritualized ceremony that closes the show takes on a near-sacramental significance. The women anoint one another with body paint, chatting and chanting. At one point, one admiringly comments to another, "Is that a new scar?" In this community of women, scars are medals of valor, as worthy of respect and honor as a man's battle decorations.

* "Sacred Naked Nature Girls," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Thursday-Sunday only, 8:30 p.m. (the show is performed for women only on Thursday). $10-$12. (Friday's benefit performance $20.) (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

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