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Daniel Benzali and
Mira Sorvino in Naked
Fans of the Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino, currently making her New York stage debut in the Classic Stage Company's American premiere of Luigi Pirandello's 1922 play Naked, need not worry. Like her famous dad, Paul Sorvino, Mira has acting chops in spades. It's just too bad that this new adaptation of a rather peculiar piece is not really what we'd like to see her in.

Set in Rome in the 1920s, Naked is a dusty old play about the price of fame and misfortune, fluffed up by adapter Nicholas Wright to mirror the sensational stories covered to excess by today's media. This new version of Naked opened in February 1998 at London's Almeida Theatre starring Juliette Binoche, and one wonders what happened during the trip across the ocean. In an academic essay in the production's Playbill, Wright tries to explain his need to retell the fictional story of Ersilia Drei, going so far as to make comparisons between the fate of Princess Diana and that of the British nanny Louise Woodward.

Ersilia (Sorvino) is a nanny who becomes a media sensation after her young charge takes a nosedive off a high roof. She is so overcome with remorse that she has made a suicide attempt, and is now in the hospital. Here, the famous novelist Ludovico Nota (Daniel Benzali) kindheartedly offers his home to Ersilia as safe refuge from the hungry press.

Seemingly torn from today's headlines in any edition of the National Enquirer, the plot of Naked is pretty sensational: A sexed-up writer (Nota), captivated by a reviled media figure (Ersilia), squires her away to his home, where he hopes to hear her true story. Meanwhile, Nota's landlady (Rebecca Schull) and maid (Tina Bruno) keep their eyes and ears pinned to the keyholes. Ersilia is followed to her newfound sanctuary by her ex-fiancé, a dashing former naval Lieutenant (Peter Rini), and by her ex-boss, Consul Grotti (Michel R. Gill). The Consul mourns the loss of his child, the plight of his vengeful wife--and his immoral love for Ersilia. Yes, there's more than just a dash of sexual intrigue in this sordid tale. At one point, someone exclaims, "Her night of love was my night off!" A tabloid headline if I ever heard one.

This Naked has too much going on for it for its own good. It's a suspense story and a detective story, with much sleuthing as to who really caused the child's death. And the rather sad yet enlightening ending of the play is given away by Wright in his two-page Playbill pronouncement (in case you fail to get the point of the story).

Rini and Gill do little more than circle their tender prey, Ersilia, as if she were a doe caught in the glare of a speeding car's headlights. And Schull and Bruno do little more than raise there hands in bewilderment at all that surrounds them. But Sorvino, here with a furrowed brow and sunken eyes, is a treasure to behold. She demonstrates in Naked--as she did in the films Summer of Sam, Mighty Aphrodite, and Romy and Michele's High School Reunion--that she has incredible range. Sorvino is a true original, and we are blessed to have her in our presence.

Derek McLane's set looks as much like a psychiatrist's office as it does a writer's rented room in Rome. Ilona Somogyi's costumes are convincing. Russell H. Champa's lighting is just right, especially a nifty little moment when Ersilia is in bed having a nightmare. Act One seems to drag due to erratic pacing. The busy director, John Rando--whose talents were better displayed in An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf and Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight--has misfired here.

An intermission only serves to interrupt the play and make you wish you were home watching Biography or Intimate Portrait. All in all, Naked could use a makeover.

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