Paul Rudnick’s new comedy, “The Naked Truth,” has a cast of characters almost everyone will recognize — even if they aren’t on stage at the WPA Theater. There are composites of Nan Kempner, Pat Buckley, Nancy Reagan, Blaine Trump, Anne Slater, Robert Mapplethorpe, Julian Schnabel, Donna Rice, Gennifer Flowers, and every hypocritical middle-aged politician who ever ran for office. “I wanted to write a play about the final frontier — Republicans in love,” says Rudnick, who started the comedy years ago after attending a Robert Mapplethorpe opening, and created a heroine, Nan Bemiss, who is a tribute to the Social X-Rays.
“I follow the exploits of Nan and Blaine and Pat as if it were Dickens. I always picture these women with Filofaxes that read ‘AIDS,’ ‘the Homeless,’ ‘Huntington’s Disease,’ and that’s their week, and it’s going to be fun! But I think these women are kind of heroic. Even though they are devoted to hors d’oeuvres and centerpieces, the charity circuit still raises a lot of money and gets attention for important causes.”
In “The Naked Truth,” which opens June 16, Nan Bemiss strikes a deal with a Robert Mapplethorpe-like photographer to blackmail her husband, a Republican presidential candidate, into abandoning his bombshell mistress. In subplots, the Bemiss’s daughter, Sissy, falls in love with the photographer’s black lesbian feminist assistant and a young, Greenwich-type couple reveal their S&M side.
“Mapplethorpe had the most comic sense of humor of all time — that he would take these pictures, frame them, and hang them in a museum,” says Rudnick, who also wrote the Off-Broadway hits “Jeffrey” and “I Hate Hamlet” and the screenplay for “The Addams Family Values” (whose producer, Scott Rudin, wants to take “The Naked Truth” to a larger venue).
“I wanted to deal with why these pictures upset us. No matter how downtown or hip someone thinks they are, they’ll still flinch. There’s something so basic to sex. It is like nothing in life. It’s like what Nan says: ‘There’s nothing more shocking than sex. Except love.”
Whether the X-Rays show up on opening night is another matter.
“I hope they come,” says the playwright. “Because it’s not an attack, it’s a tribute.”