Vince Gatton is one of those actors who has not infrequently been greeted in public by theatergoers uttering the brilliantly witty line, "I almost didn't recognize you with your clothes on!" Gatton -- along with six other actors -- was nude for most of Party, the popular gay comedy that started off in Chicago and then had a healthy run Off-Broadway. He went starkers again in certain scenes of Flesh and Blood, a murder mystery at the Sanford Meisner theater. Most recently, he donned his birthday suit for the role of Adam -- as in "Adam and Steve" -- in a Gay Pride Month production of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Now, Gatton is going to play another character with the same name in David Allyn's Baptizing Adam at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre beginning August 22 -- and the big news is that the role does not require him to bare all. I met with him at a coffee shop recently and asked him to tell me the naked truth about onstage nudity.
THEATERMANIA: You've dropped trou in some high-profile shows. Was that ever a big issue for you, something you had to come to terms with?
VINCE GATTON: I guess it started out on a dare in college when a friend of mine informed me that we were going to go and do modeling for life drawing classes. We did that a few times, which is infinitely harder than being naked on stage because you don't have anything active to do. You just drop your robe and 40 people in a circle go like this: [He stares intently] You're on a little pedestal in the middle of a cold room. When they take a break and the class goes out for a smoke or whatever, you put your robe back on and you kind of wander around and see how they drew you. It's very awkward! Having done that, when the opportunity to audition for Party came up, I was like, "OK, I'm primed!" By the time we got into rehearsing and performing the show with seven people on stage, there were so many other things to concern yourself with -- rhythm and timing and blocking and business -- that taking off your clothes really became just another thing you had to do.
TM: Do you feel that you've gained a reputation as someone for casting directors to call when a role requires a cute, young actor to be naked?
VG: I think, once you've got Party on your résumé, people just sort of assume you're a nudist. There have been shows that I've been asked to do and I thought, "This doesn't offer me anything that's interesting." With The Most Fabulous Story, there was no question in my mind, because that's such a fun show and such a good part. What are you gonna do, say "no" because you have to be naked? It wasn't an issue. In Baptizing Adam, there's no actual nudity, though I do take my shirt off...
TM: Oh. Having seen the production photos, I just assumed there was nudity.
VG: No. Some of the publicity stills you have are of moments that never happen in the play.
TM: The press release says that Baptizing Adam is about what happens when a man of lust meets a man of God. Are you the man of lust?
VG: I guess so! What's interesting is that, though the play has no nudity, it's very sexy. The thing that makes it sexy is the chemistry between the characters. The plot sort of kicks off when Adam is working out at the gym: He's a gay man around 30, enjoying the hell out of his hedonistic lifestyle in New York, getting laid a lot. He thinks this guy Jack is cruising him but it turns out that Jack [played by Andrew Glaszek] is an evangelical Christian who wants to convert him. We've talked about that in rehearsal -- the fact that, in New York, eye contact is such a rare thing. When somebody does make strong eye contact with you, it can mean either "Have you received The Word?" or "Do you want to go to my place?" What's fascinating about the play is that they clear up that confusion almost immediately but then they continue to spend the rest of the day together. They're fascinated with each other. The play is partly about how we use doctrines and things to isolate ourselves, and how the simple presence of another human being can shake up everything you believe. One of the sexiest scenes in the play is when Jack and Adam are sitting in a coffee shop. The chemistry is exciting and it has nothing to do with skin at all; you don't see any weenies or butts.
TM: The dynamic between the characters does sound intriguing.
VG: It is. The acting problem is to play the thing that's holding you there. Two people just screaming at each other would be hideous. These two aren't necessarily fighting, they just have worldviews that are diametrically opposed. One is saying "I'm going to convert you" and the other one is saying "I want to kiss you." Both of them say, "Well, that's not going to happen." So the question becomes, "Then why aren't you leaving?" These guys suddenly have to consider ideas that, three hours earlier, they would have rejected outright. Now Adam has to listen because the ideas are not in a pamphlet, not coming from a crazy person on the radio or the subway but from somebody he's made a connection with.
TM: That kind of dramatic tension can be electric. It's probably just as well that there's no outright nudity in the play or it might be too intense. It strikes me that, when I've seen plays with full nudity, the action has almost always been non-sexual.
VG: That's where you can cross the line into pornography. One of the things about Party was that it was more funny than sexy. As I said at the time: If you wanted a genuine turn-on, you could pay a lot less money to rent a video -- or to rent certain boys! -- than you'd pay for a ticket to our show. People came to see Party because they got something else out of it, some laughs and good cheer. Despite the fact that there was so much nudity for so long, it was an innocent sort of fun. The shows that have involved nudity that I was not interested in doing were the ones that aimed to be a turn-on for the audience. If that's the goal, go find a prostitute and leave me alone! I hope I have other skills to offer. And there are certainly guys with better bods than me, guys with six-pack abs and big arms and all of that. If what you're looking for is visual hot-cha, you'd better try to find it elsewhere.