MAZOMANIE — To many local folks, there’s barely anything funny about the years of controversy surrounding the Mazomanie Beach, a nude beach along a stretch of pristine Wisconsin River shoreline seven miles south of Sauk City.
While that fact alone could lend itself to a litany of jokes, retired Wisconsin State Journal columnist Bill Stokes and his granddaughter Sarah Stokes hope to leave audiences in stitches beginning July 11 at downtown Mazomanie’s Community Building with their collaborative play “Naked at Amazo.”
Both say the play exposes the humorous parts of the tensions between the locals and the naturists who frequent the beach.
Two years ago on Bill’s 80th birthday, Wisconsin State Journal columnist Doug Moe called him “the best newspaper columnist the state of Wisconsin ever produced,” and “a natural storyteller with an affinity for oddballs.”
While this time Stokes’ oddballs are fictional characters, some are oddly familiar; like Hairpin, the local tavern owner, or the Reverend Throckmier, who carries his Bible about decrying the sins of those who prance about the beach in the buff.
The idea for the play started at the Thanksgiving dinner table of 2013 when Stokes’ family members were talking turkey about their feelings regarding the beach.
That summer, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stripped the area of visitors, clothed or unclothed, except on the weekends, because of reports of drug use and illicit sex going on there.
Bill said the play script does not take any position in favor of nudists or those who want to return the beach back to a family park where bathing suits are more the norm.
But Bill seems to back the bathing suits.
“We’re not taking political positions, just saying (the closure) is what generated our interest,” Bill said. “It’s a great place, and it’s public land ... because of this interest group that chooses to act in a manner that attracts the undesirables, it is no longer public.”
There is no nudity in the play and the subject matter is recommended for ages 12 and up.
“In the end, you can take it pro or con,” Sarah said. “It’s really unbiased when it comes to that. You see the local thing about it being public property, and the nudists who say we’re not trying to harm anyone.”
Sarah, who has a degree in theater performance from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and interned at American Players Theater, said her forte is comedy.
She is headed for Chicago to take classes at the legendary comedy club Second City that helped launch careers for the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.
She put her pen to her grandfather’s script to include more dialogue and action between the characters.
Hairpin turned into a narrator of sorts who introduces the characters as they make their entrances.
He introduces farmer Arnie Bestermier, the closest resident of the nude beach:
“He was milking Holsteins and cropping several miles. And when he wasn’t milking or plowing, he was out on the river fishing for catfish,” Hairpin tells the audience. “That’s what he was doing when he saw the first nudies frolicking on the sandbar. At first he didn’t think anything of it, but then, well, you should hear it from Arnie himself.”