In the weeks leading up to Stray Cat Theatre's Arizona premiere of “Trainspotting,” the theater community wasn't buzzing with talk of the play's copious heroin use, its gaggingly scatological content or the challenges of bringing Irvine Welsh's bestselling book and subsequent 1996 cult hit film adaptation to life onstage.
No, the gossip was just four words long: Kerry McCue's going topless.
On one hand, that's surprising news: The 30-year-old actress has been a longtime fixture on the stages of edgy indie playhouses Stray Cat and Nearly Naked Theatre — but while cast members around her have oft doffed their duds in the name of theatrical arts, she's stayed clothed.
And she's taken on more professional gigs of late, landing higher-profile roles with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company this season — which other actresses might use as an insurance policy against having to show skin.
On the other hand, it's really not. According to McCue, the situation's simply never come up before.
“I didn't (avoid) it on purpose,” McCue says. “I like to do cool roles, and I guess I'll do whatever it takes.”
In “Trainspotting's” stage adaptation — which fuses disparate characters and story lines from the sprawling novel — McCue plays Alison, a young mother whose baby dies while she and friends spend the night shooting heroin; later, she drops Ecstasy with friends and romps through an amusement park with them before lifting her shirt to explore what skin feels like while high.
In the context of the otherwise tragically bleak play, McCue says, it's a sweet, almost innocent moment.
Stray Cat artistic director Ron May is at the helm of the production, his first time directing nudity. (Later in the play, a heroin user shoots drugs into his genitals.) “I've rarely seen nudity onstage where it's been necessary,” May says. “But it can be powerful when it's warranted.”
A waif with deep eyes and freckled skin, McCue says her petiteness works for the character, lending a gauntness to the heroin addict. “My build is perfect for that, even reinforces that: I'm skinny. I'm pasty,” she deadpans.
McCue isn't nervous about exposing herself to audiences.
“One of the things that makes an actor,” she says, “is not being embarrassed in compromising situations in front of strangers.”
But for readers reeling with the harrowing recall of that old showing-up-to-class-naked nightmare, rest assured that McCue doesn't always have nerves of steel; at least one other aspect of acting freaks her out.
“The thing I get nervous for is singing a solo,” she laughs. “That's when I get the jitters.”
>> ‘‘Trainspotting'' opens 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, and runs through June 3 at Metropolitan Arts Institute, 1700 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix. $12-$18. (480) 820-8022 or www.straycattheatre.org
Live! Nude! On stage!
For six years, Damon Dering's Nearly Naked Theatre has charted the fringes of Valley theater with, as the name implies, smatterings of stage nudity, both male and female. On the eve of Stray Cat Theatre's first production with nudity, an adapted “Trainspotting” by Irvine Welsh, Get Out spoke with Dering — who's still smarting, amusedly, over actress Kerry McCue's decision to flash for Stray Cat and not his company — about what it's like to stage flesh in the footlights.
ON NUDITY'S IMPACT: “I don't find it useful for shock value anymore. People are not shocked by nudity. It's much more about making an audience vulnerable, nervous. An audience gets uncomfortable when they first see nudity. If it's titillating or funny, that lets them off the hook. If it's not funny or sexy, that's a weird moment.”
ON AFFECTING REPUTATIONS: “When I started Nearly Naked six years ago, I'd say (performing nude onstage) changed people's opinions about actors. But I don't think so anymore. There are some actors that won't do it, it's too vulnerable. And I think they respect the ones who are able to do it.”
ON KIDS TODAY: “We come from a culture, these kids are a lot more used to this thing than the generation before us. They've seen a lot more nudity in film and television. A lot of people don't consider (showing) breasts or butts real nudity.”