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Portrait of a Nude opens Oct. 24

Sydney Hall as Victorine and Cole Roberts as Manet
Sydney Hall as Victorine and Cole Roberts as Manet

Based on actual events and spanning almost 200 years, the play “Portrait of a Nude” traces the history of Francisco Goya’s controversial masterpiece “The Naked Maja” from its unveiling in 1798 to the recent sexual harassment case involving the painting. In its fall production, Tidewater Community College Theatre explores many of the issues concerning artistic inspiration, history and censorship.

What harm could come from a simple painting?

A night at Tidewater Community College Theatre provides some answers and raises several thought-provoking questions along the way. Based on actual events that span nearly 200 years, the play “Portrait of a Nude” highlights issues of artistic interpretation, pornography and censorship.

The show opens Oct. 24 at the Chesapeake Studio Theatre on the Chesapeake Campus. Showtimes are 8 p.m. from Oct. 24-27 and on Nov. 1-3. On Sunday, Oct. 28, the performance is at 2 p.m. Playwright Laura Shamus will attend the Saturday, Nov. 3 performance, which will include a question-and-answer session afterward. If you are interested in the discussion, call Ed Jacob, head of the TCC Theatre Department, at (757) 822-5245 or email him at

“This play speaks to the arts and also censorship; it’s just a fun story to tell,” Jacob says. “It offers several opportunities for the actors.”

Initially written for as few as five actors, TCC’s version stars an all-student cast of 13 in the production that explores the history of response to Francisco Goya’s controversial painting from 1798, “Naked Maja,” known to be the Duchess of Alba. TCC student Sean Wessman, showing off his ability to speak in French and Spanish accents, plays three roles: Goya, writer Emile Zola and the dean of a college.

Wessman, in his third year attending TCC, credits Jacob with encouraging him to try the various accents. “It wasn’t really a strength of mine, but he told me not to mimic, but to calibrate my voice instead,” Wessman says.

Shayna Langrall with Sean Wessman
Shayna Langrall with Sean Wessman

TCC student Shayna Langrall plays Maria, the Duchess of Alba, Edouard Manet’s wife, Suzanne, and Princess Diana. A transfer from the University of Mary Washington, Langrall is appearing in her first production for TCC. She embraces the role of the whimsical duchess, who opens the play with the line, “Don’t you ever want to do anything dangerous?”

“I really love how rich this play is in historical context,” she says. “No matter how many times I do a rehearsal, I always find something new and something different that I want to go home and research.”

The staging provides a challenge as the settings range from the Duchess of Alba’s villa in Spain to an interrogation chamber from the Spanish Inquisition to the home and studio of Manet to the National Gallery of England to a college classroom and back again. Expository notes and images enhance the play’s action.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. Reserved tickets must be picked up at the box office 20 minutes before showtime. TCC faculty and staff receive two complimentary tickets. For information, call TCC Theatre at (757) 822-5219.