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Playing the unplayable: From 'Barely Proper' to 'Disrobed'

Playing the unplayable: From 'Barely Proper' to 'Disrobed'

A look at the play’s 90 year history and a chat with Disrobed's director & lead actor about the cult, controversy, and adaptation of 'Barely Proper'
A 1973 production of the play in Assonet Massachusetts. Photo by Spencer Grant. Source

When Tom Cushing first had his play Barely Proper published in 1931, the playwright already understood that his one act’s ability to be actualized in a live theater setting would be severely limited, leading him to subtitle it “an unplayable play.”

The following plot summary from a 1933 nudist magazine will help the uninitiated understand why the satirical farce was so unplayable:

An extremely shy and proper young Englishman with an appropriate Oxford accent, visits the home of his fiancee in Germany and finds to his unutterable horror and amazement that the whole family are nudists, and that he is expected to join them!

When Barely Proper was first being written as an “armchair exercise” in 1929, Germany’s sprouting naked culture had not yet taken root in the United States. Tom Cushing, who wasnota nudist—merely an enterprising American cashing in on a European trend—decided to set his meet-the-parents comedy in a nudist camp, inherently requiring its cast to perform their parts sans costume.

However, the play would prove playable after all. As it would turn out, it would be actual nudists, not your typical theatre elites, who would find a niche for the unplayable play, and who would ultimately be responsible for its longevity as a cult classic for more than 90 years (and counting). 🪐

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Planet Nude
Planet Nude
A podcast exploring nudity in history, culture, politics, and art. A new way to explore the stories we share on Planet Nude.