NEW YORK — At a recent performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in Central Park, characters professed their love, flitted across the stage, and took an audience of more than 150 through the paces of the plot.
Oh, and they were stark naked.
This was the Free Tempest, a two-day production Thursday and Friday at the park’s Summit Rock that was zero-cost for the audience — and zero-costume for some of the all-female cast.
The play was co-directed by Alice Mottola and Pitr Strait in collaboration with the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a group that gathers for topless outdoor book club meetings with the goal of normalizing the naked female form.
“We wanted to take our advocacy one step further with a big theatrical production that would allow full nudity in public,” Mottola said.
New York State law generally prohibits full nudity, with an exception made for plays and exhibitions. Mottola said the group obtained a standard park permit for the shows. At Thursday’s performance, several people stationed near the entrance warned of nudity ahead, as did a sign, to prevent the uninitiated from stumbling in.
Mottola and Strait said they liked the idea of trying out the admittedly controversial concept on a classic text.
“Shakespeare is the natural choice there because the text is unassailable, so the concept lives and dies on its own,” said Mottola, who works as a software engineer.
Mottola said the pair liked “The Tempest” among Shakespeare’s works in part because of one of its central themes — the clash between freedom and confinement.
“It’s about shedding things that bond you, shedding old traditions and coming into a new world that is closer to the way things should be,” she said.
A 71-year-old retiree in the crowd said he liked this "Tempest" more than one he had seen at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. An ESL teacher who brought a group of foreign students said a few of his female students had walked out, and that he looked forward to hearing all the students' reactions.
“I enjoyed the bravery of doing this, because it’s very difficult, I would assume, to do such a thing,” said Greer Samuels, an actor who attended the show.
Reanna Roane, who played Ariel, a spirit, said she had performed Shakespeare in the past but had never acted nude.
"I felt so vulnerable and exposed,” she said. “It really made me step up my game as an actor.”
Asked if they thought Shakespeare would like this version of “The Tempest,” both Strait and Mottola sounded positive notes.
“I think he would love it,” said Strait.
“I think he would certainly appreciate not being told what to do," said Mottola.