Go Deeper

There is No Nudity in Nuda Veritas: Interview with Natalie Diener

Posted September 5th, 2009

Philadelphia is full of circuits and networks of performing artists who pull their friends and colleagues into the city. After she graduated from Dickinson College in 2005, classmate Scott McPheeters (Kill Me Now) told her about the performance scene in town, and Natalie Diener came to check it out.

At Philly Fringe, she’s directing Melissa James Gibson’s play Nuda Veritas, which opens tonight at Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3.

Nuda veritas means naked truth. I’ve speculated regarding the meaning. It’s named after a Klimt painting. The show has no nudity, no cursing. It’s the fringiest of Fringe shows.”

Natalie previously directed a portion of the play for a student directing clase. She found it in college, under a time crunch. “If it didn’t grab me within the first two pages, I wasn’t going to do it.”

The first page was a long description, taking up the whole page, about how the playwright envisioned the set. But at the second page, Natalie was hooked.

After the jump: women in theater, taking control, and seeking objective truth in an amorphous space.

“The momentum and the rhythm drew me in,” says Natalie. “It’s a very unique voice. [The play] has been produced in New York, LA, Chicago, but not in Philly.”

“The language is very poetic. She’s driven by natural speech patterns of people. She uses lots of ellipses and line breaks, because of how people self-edit, as she said in an interview. And she doesn’t shy away from being intelligent: she drops ‘solipsistic’ in the play.”

When Natalie moved here she wanted a job in theater, and she got one. Starting in the summer of 2005, she started working for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, predominantly as a stage manager.

“It let me gain the trust of talented people without risking directing.” When recruiting actors for Nuda Veritas, Natalie says that her past experience and building a reputation—with not only Philly Shakespeare, Luna Theatre, and the idiopathic ridiculopathy consortium—helped her immensely.

“I invited so many on a whim, and had no idea that the response would be so high.”

All four roles in the play are for women. And given this summer’s somewhat tumultuous studies and discussions of the role of women in theater, that Nuda Veritas is a script by a woman and is directed by a woman might be of particular note to theatergoers hungry for more adventurous female roles.

On her blog, Natalie has written about the controversy. I asked Natalie if she though there was gender inequality in Philadelphia’s theater scene.

“The cast complains that there are no roles for women. I looked at the Barrymores for female directors and nominations and found the numbers embarrassingly low. But this is probably just artists bitching.”

Working with four experienced artists, including Barrymore-winners, Natalie had to get back in directing shape.

“This is really the first full-length piece where I’ve had creative control, and producing on my own. I recently took a master class at Wilma with Blanka Zizka and Ben Lloyd, about collaboration. I was directed in front of the class and critiqued. It was helpful! It’s been a while since I was at the helm of a rehearsal. Taking the class sort of de-rusted me.”

“It was enlightening to know how I come across to other people,” Natalie says. Sometimes I ask too many questions or not the right questions. My tendency is to talk on and on, making my point several different ways.”

In the play itself, audiences will see the four actors in white pajamas, in an amorphous space, according to Natalie. “It’s set in an abstract place between sleep and awake. Four women have arrived on the same wavelength as they’ve fallen asleep, reliving episodes from their lives for the audience to look at for objective truth.”

Natalie says that we gather from their language that they’re hetero, and they all have names—but they’re never mentioned in the play.

“There are no character descriptions. Maybe it’s more important for Melissa James Gibson to define the space for characters to inhabit and let them experience it. It’s both challenging and rewarding, figuring out who these characters are. We only get snippets of who they are concretely—we have to look at the language to figure out the rest.”

“I’m staying as close as possible to the text, to stay true to the spirit of it.”

I ask Natalie what she means, having the audience seek objective truth.

“The word truth gets dropped a lot,” she says, “in the title [of the play], all over. The question is what does it mean to the play. The women share stories with each other and the audience—but why not fall asleep? Why not dream alone? They’re searching for validation. You don’t get the sense that they know one another in their waking lives. In this world, there’s an unbiased mirror to see their experiences.

“Objective truth for me? Thematically, what drew them to the play is that these women, even though they have certain life experiences, have an ‘everywoman’ quality to them. One woman begins to describe how [her husband] has begun to sew his own shirts, the metaphor being that this other thing took up all her husband’s time. She rips all the shirts to pieces, going on a literal tear. It’s done in a humorous way, but others can relate to being in a relationship to [their own] distraction.”

Nuda Veritas opens tonight at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio 3 at 6:30 pm, and runs for seven more performances through September 13.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo credit: public domain.