Never before have I witnessed an investigation of stripping that cut so clearly through the myths and skewed perceptions of this marginalized occupation. Orlando actor/director/playwright John DiDonna's original drama Stripped, which he also co-directs (with Seth Kubersky) for his Empty Spaces Theatre Company, is at once seductive and disenchanting. The unique identity of each of the half-dozen "dancers" in the cast is fully fleshed out, due to the spot-on dialogue penned by DiDonna and the fearless capture by the actresses themselves: Sarah French, Sarah Lockard, Dorothy Massey, Katie Merriman, Lauren O'Quinn and Yzaura Vanegas.
"My interviews were with many women, about 20 or so in person/on the internet/email/etc.," e-mails DiDonna, when questioned about how he got so close to the subject. "Most was focused however on about 6-8 locals who became the foundations for the roles. Not one role is one woman, they are composites of the lives of many women."
During the 90-minute show no intermission we watch and listen to the girls in their "club." There's a stage with two of the infamous poles, upon which they continually slide and spread to erotic effect. Behind and to the side of the platform is the "backstage" area, where we see the dancers in various stages of prepping and repose, cigarettes and heads hanging in poses of exhaustion and concession. In front of the stage, the girls perch atop barstools, as if they were in the club mingling with customers. But they talk only to us, never to each other, animatedly sharing their stories. Throughout the production, background techno music beats a steady rhythm.
The repeated rotation of the strippers from club to backstage to spotlight reiterates the sense of monotonous routine that underlies the provocative gyrations and baring of skin. At the show's opening, the women are fully dressed (at least as far as stripper gear goes). In turn, they start to chat about how they stumbled into the job. No matter the situation that led them there one was homeless after the hurricanes, another couldn't feed her kid on minimum wages it's always about cash. Progressively, the talk becomes more personal, and they begin to reveal more, both in their intimations and attire. Dresses are reduced to boy shorts and slinky tops, which fall away to thongs and pasties.
By closing time, we're hearing anger at their pride and defensiveness for the way they are treated as lesser people; at the men who use them, onstage and at home; at the life in which they are trapped. And we've heard commentary on all the myths and perceptions: about the power of their position in taking money from men; about the addiction to drugs and to money earned without an 8-to-5; about nonsensical laws and codes; about getting old.
By the end, when their tops fall away, one by one, it leaves the six women exposed physically and emotionally. The electrifying sexuality of the strippers contradicted by the reality of the trade leaves its sting.
Final performances: 8:30 pm Thursday, March 9-Saturday March 11
Lowndes Shakespeare Center