Girard’s Nude has a lot going for it. It has a strong female lead. There’s a liberating theme of people opening-up to each other. The light comic musical about a mid-twentieth century American housewife’s reluctant assertiveness in the face of opportunity holds a great deal of appeal. The world premiere adaptation of the novel by Wisconsin-based writer Nancy Sweetland closes its premiere run at the Kettle Moraine Playhouse in Slinger this coming weekend.
A charmingly nuanced Jovon Serrano is well-poised in the center of the comedy in the role of Ethel Evans--a small-town housewife who is approached by a world-famous French painter named Girard. Ralph Garcia plays passion with a pleasantly floppy French accent that never overpowers genuine emotion. Inspired by the opportunity to do work in the style of Reubens, Girard want to paint Ethel in the nude. Weighing more than traditional beauty would allow for, Ethel is understandably suspicious of Girard until his persistence proves his earnestness. She’s okay with posing nude, but what will the rest of the small, conservative town think of her behavior?
As actor Peter Gibeau was not available the night I attended, understudy Bryan Quinn played Ethel’s husband Ernest. Familiar to Milwaukee audiences in a number of shows, Quinn made for a lovably oblivious and vulnerable husband who finds himself lost when it becomes clear that his wife is up to something behind his back. Director Christopher Elst smartly balances the drama between Ethel and Ernest Evans, particularly towards the end of things when each suspects the other of marital infidelity. That dynamic is surprisingly sophisticated and subtle for such an appealingly simple show.
It’s a fun, little comedy touching on themes of body positivity, acceptance of others and open, honest communication between people. Playwright Kristin Bayer successfully avoids quite a few hazards in transferring the novel to a passionate musical theatre format. Ethel’s inner struggles feel very real even as emotions are amplified by song and dance. Some of the success here belongs to Serrano, but she couldn’t have done it without a clever script. Bayer’s dialogue keeps Ethel endearingly earthbound throughout the entire show.
The musical end of the musical comedy is held together quite well by composter Deanna Gibeau. There’s a pleasant range of moods radiating through the story including the simple determination of the show-closing Put It All Out There and the simply wistful Swept Up in Beauty. The one piece that asserts itself better than any other song in the show has to be Ernest Evans’ Wife is a Floozy: a whimsically gossipy little march of weird melody and percussion that raises the tension in Scene 4.
It’s light comedy with a bit of music and a generally uplifting story that doesn’t require too much thought. The Kettle Moraine Playhouse is a cozy, little out of the way venue that feels a bit like a slightly smaller variation on. The Box Theatre in Oconomowoc. It’s a little converted church space in a cool, little commercial area of Slinger. The quick drive north makes for a pleasant trip not too far out of town in the quaint, little theatre space.
KMP/ Theater RED’s premiere of Girard’s Nude continues through Sep. 22 at the Kettle Moraine Playhouse on 204 Kettle Moraine Dr. S in Slinger. For more information, visit Theater RED online.