Magazine article The New Yorker

Naked City

Magazine article The New Yorker

Naked City

Article excerpt

Back in January--the time of year when the flesh feels lumpiest, the hair dullest, the skin pastiest--the producers of Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty," which moves to Broadway next month, held an open casting call, seeking "real people with real bodies" to appear as models in an ad campaign. The play "confronts America's obsession with physical beauty headlong," according to its promotional materials, but this was no Dove commercial. "It's a 'What the fuck?' campaign," Drew Hodges, the head of the advertising company in charge, said, referring to the reaction that people are supposed to have when they see the finished product--pictures of real people naked--on the subway. The posters will go up February 23rd, with the tagline "Does this play make me look fat?"

On audition day, more than a hundred hopefuls were packed into the tenth floor of a building off Broadway, where three casting directors--Bernie Telsey, Will Cantler, and Tiffany Little Canfield--sat at card tables studying lists of questions about body insecurities. (The play is about a couple whose relationship falls apart after the woman hears that her boyfriend has said she has a "regular" face.) "We're looking for people who pop," said Telsey, who has broad shoulders and loose, curly hair. "I say that whether I'm casting this or 'Wicked' or 'Rachel Getting Married.' "

Canfield--who has blond hair, full lips, and "would like to lose ten pounds"--was talking to a forty-something actress named Annie McGuire, who told her, "My favorite body parts are my feet," and to Brianna Stimpson, another aspiring actress, in a flowery dress. "If you had to pick a physical body part to change, what would it be?" Canfield asked. "Legs!" Stimpson said. "I want legs that go on forever--I want six feet of legs, and I have, like, three feet." Canfield asked for a favorite part. "Hmm," Stimpson said. "I like my face. I feel like, window to the soul, you know?" When she left, Canfield said, "There's nothing wrong with that girl's legs!"

Nearby, Cantler (bald head, glasses-- "I look shockingly like Ed Harris") was talking to a chubby actor named Ananias Dixon. "The part I'm most self-conscious about is my stomach and arms," Dixon said softly. "I've always been a big boy, and, especially in the theatre industry, it's all about looks. I don't go for relationships, because I'm afraid of being rejected." Telsey was interviewing Adrienne Gori, a skinny nineteen-year-old, who said, "I like guys with very good forearms. …

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