Within 72 hours, however, Mayor Shirley Franklin had requested that Atlanta police not file the citation with municipal court. What's more, the city is not requiring the Armory to discontinue the performances. The statement from the mayor's office even included the following abashed comment from Alan Dreher, an assistant police chief: "We apologize for the mix-up." Mix-up, indeed.
Naked Boys Singing has run off-Broadway for six years and features six male actors and a pianist, all of whom are nude. The show consists of double entendre-filled patter and playful tunes like "The Bliss of a Bris." It was launched at the Armory in August as a fundraiser for Actor's Express.
Robert and Donna Darroch put up the production money. Donna Darroch, a State Farm attorney and Actor's Express chairwoman, consulted a lawyer ahead of time about the risks of staging a show in the raw at a bar with no adult entertainment license, but was assured the show met the definition of legitimate theater.
None of that, apparently, mattered much on Saturday night, when three officers from the city's licensing and permits division showed up and ordered the play stopped. Their rationale was a city ordinance that defines "adult entertainment establishments" as "any place of business or commercial establishment wherein the entertainment or activity therein consists of nude or substantially nude persons dancing with or without music or engaged in movements of a sexual nature or movements simulating sexual intercourse, oral copulation, sodomy or masturbation."
Naked Boys would qualify under a strict interpretation. But so would many shows involving nudity or sexual themes staged by Atlanta playhouses. Actor's Express' recent comic thriller Killer Joe featured a completely nude actress who put her hands down the jeans of the title character.
Within hours, the story was all over television news, and reached newspapers as far away as Boston. Even CNN broadcast the story. The attention had an effect. Franklin's statement came late Tuesday afternoon, and has cleared the way for weekend performances to resume.
"I'm on cloud nine," said Robert Darroch. "It means, number one, that we'll reopen on Thursday. It also means to me what I've always thought about the city: When there's a misunderstanding, you can deal with the mayor's office and the mayor will move promptly to rectify any wrongs."
One thing's for sure -- the resulting publicity is bound to help ticket sales. The Darrochs hope the play can continue through the spring and even beyond, and be a consistent fundraising avenue for Actor's Express.
No matter how joyful the outcome, the incident did mark the latest in a puritanical crackdown on Atlanta nightlife, in keeping with the bar-closing rollback from 4 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and Backstreet's closure in June. Naked Boys Singing clearly has no erotic intent, but police may have perceived the Armory as a more vulnerable venue than a conventional playhouse staging a steamy show.
Of course, the nudity-in-theater debate isn't entirely new. It previously came up in 1971 when the city raised the license issue against a touring production of Hair scheduled to open at the Civic Center. A judge distinguished between "adult entertainment" and "mainstream performance with nudity," saying that the latter has First Amendment protection.
There's still time to catch Alliance Theatre's scorching Topdog/Underdog -- through Dec. 19 on the Hertz Stage.
Director Kent Gash stages the production with a twist. The two lead actors switch roles on alternate nights. The "Clubs" cast features Kes Khemnu as Lincoln, and Joe Wilson Jr. as Booth; vice versa for the "Diamonds" cast. So which is better?
As the bigger man, Khemnu physically suits the elder brother role of Lincoln, a former three-card monte master who overshadows would-be hustler Booth. As Booth, Wilson puts a slackness in his expressions and body language, portraying a man who's been a beat behind his entire life.
But in "Diamonds," Khemnu's instinct skews to the comic. Wilson carries himself with fiercely articulate intensity. Topdog's center of gravity follows Wilson in either role, with Khemnu as his foil. So the play has more punch with Wilson in the more complex, commanding part of Lincoln.
Topdog is exciting enough without the casting trick, but it's a fun option. Despite the play's heavy dose of three-card monte, the two actors don't let you just keep your eyes on the deck.
Scott Henry contributed to the Naked Boys report.
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