Naked Ladies (Thea Fitz-James) 2016 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Naked Ladies from the 2016 SummerWorks Performance Festival

Playwright/performer Thea Fitz-James juggle the weighty tasks of exploring the importance of female nudity throughout western history and reflecting upon the relationship she has with her own body in the poignant one-woman show Naked Ladies, now playing at the 2016 SummerWorks Performance Festival.

The evening starts with a baring of body and soul as a nude Fitz-James makes eye contact with every member of the audience. As we squirmed, giggled, or teared-up under her understanding gaze, I suddenly realized I was feeling as naked as Fitz-James looked. The performance only began once this communal trust had been cultivated between the audience and the performer.

Part feminist art history lecture, part pop culture critique, and part recitation of childhood diary entries, Naked Ladies takes the audience on a search for the meaning and importance of female nudity in our cultural history with detours into Fitz-James’s personal journey of bodily shame and acceptance. We are ultimately led to ask ourselves: what does it mean to have a woman’s body? What is a woman’s body?

All the information and stories discussed in the show were certainly interesting but sometimes there was so much to get through that it would bog down the structure of the play. Subsequently, Fitz-James was not always successful in connecting the personal with the cultural for me and there were some talking-heads moments that relied a little too much on the projections for visual interest.

But Fitz-James is a master at building goodwill and her charm carried us past any awkwardness in the first half. The play also picked-up immensely after her spectacular physically and vocally contorted depiction of Freudian hysteria, and that energy continued to bestow everything thereafter with a real sense of emotional poignancy.

However, even though I have mentioned that Fitz-James can only address so many issues in a one-hour play, I cannot help but notice some missed opportunities. While she rightfully acknowledged the privilege of her white body and spoke about the exploitation and artistic activism of women of colour like Saartjie Baartman and Grace Jones, I was disappointed that she would pay tribute to Yoko Ono’s work without acknowledging the particular brand of oriental exoticism often levied against the body of Ono and other East Asian women of colour.

I also wished Fitz-James had more directly addressed the privilege she currently holds as a thin woman (although she did mention that she gained some weight in college). While I recognize there is an inherent risk for any women who exposes her body, there is a particular type of disgust reserved only for the bodies of fat women. For many of us fat women who face so much hate even with our clothes on, there are certain barriers that Fitz-James would not have to overcome.

Nevertheless, Naked Ladies is an intelligent, perceptive exploration of a difficult and complicated subject matter and I am truly excited to see where Thea Fitz-James takes it next.


Naked Ladies plays at The Drake Underground (1150 Queen Street West).

Show times:

  • Friday August 5th, 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
  • Sunday August 7th, 6:15 PM – 7:15 PM
  • Monday August 8th, 8:30 PM – 9:30 PM
  • Thursday August 11th, 5:15 PM – 6:15 PM
  • Friday August 12th, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted. (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee.)

Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.

Warnings: Nudity, Strong Language, Adult Themes, and Audience Participation.

Image provided by SummerWorks.