At 7:30 on the first Sunday evening of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I walked over to the Phoenix Theatre to see “Stripped,” a new play by Amy Pettinella. She also directed it herself, and stars in it with Greg Browning.
Several people had made a point of telling me about this piece, but I would have gone to see it anyway because I have huge respect and admiration for Pettinella. For one thing, she’s a playwright who actually completes plays and gets them produced instead of just talking about them. I also loved her acting work in “Blackout” at the Alley Theater last year. (That was pre-blog, but I wrote about it here on IndianaAuditions.com.) ANY time Pettinella is involved creatively with a live theatre project, I’m there.
Should you go see “Stripped?” Of course you should. I say this about any show I review: you should always go see it yourself and form your own opinion. I would also love to hear what you think, if you have time to leave me a comment or send me an email (amarylliswriter at gmail dot com.)
However, since this is my theatre reviews blog and I am trying to stay honest about what I see, I have to say that “Stripped” as it is being performed this week at the Fringe just does not work for me. The rest of this post is an explanation of why, so there are lots of spoilers. If you have not already seen “Stripped,” I recommend that you go see it before reading any further.
For one thing, half of the play is the recorded narration of a character’s thoughts as he is standing by himself on the stage. When I want to hear a recorded book, I borrow one from my public library. This live theatre piece would have been much more interesting and engaging if Pettinella as playwright had dropped the Fourth Wall and let Mr. Forbes/Paul (Greg Browning) share his thoughts with us directly.
The man sitting next to me in the theatre turned out to be Rob Young, the man whose family has made it possible for the Fringe to buy a permanent headquarters in the renovated church just east of the intersection of College and Mass. Ave. I enjoyed chatting with him a bit about indepedent filmmaking before and after the show. He knows Pettinella from the indie film community here. According to the program for “Stripped,” she “serves on several committees for the Indianapolis International Film Festival.”
I think her film instincts clouded her live theatre instincts in this piece.
I also got the feeling that the purpose of this piece was to be a showcase for Pettinella’s tidy little body rather than a satisfying story. Maybe I’m just jealous…
Wait. There is no “maybe” about it. I am COMPLETELY jealous of Pettinella’s petite and perky physical perfection. (Okay, enough spit on my keyboard.) Seriously, she looks gorgeous in the barely-there lingerie that she wears for the second half of this show.
And I know that just because the rest of the world thinks a woman is beautiful does not mean she herself is able to believe it. So maybe this piece is not about Pettinella showing off but about proving something, to herself and/or someone else.
But that’s the thing: I got the feeling that the show was about Pettinella’s personal work (i.e., her therapy) not a play that could be inhabited effectively by other actors or appreciated by people that did not already know her.
When the house lights came up at the end, a few people jumped to their feet to applaud. I was incredulous. And then Rob Young told me the show had “good writing.”
Well, okay, the writing does include a lot of clever phrases, some interesting literary references, some good laughs…all that is worth noting.
But I just didn’t care about the characters! Greg Browning is a good-looking man, but there is nothing attractive or sympathetic about the failed English teacher/strip club owner that he portrays. The character is just a spineless jerk.
I would have sympathy for the supposedly intellectually gifted Beverly because of her crappy childhood, but she keeps ON making stupid decisions and whining about them. She yearns for protection, security, and so on, but resists any offers of help. She begs to be allowed to strip-dance, and then curses her empty life as a stripper. Aaagghh!
I might have been able to believe a dark, unhappy, hopeless ending, but the sudden, happily-ever-after ending? Nope. ‘Not buying it.
I also thought that if we were going to have to cringe while watching Beverly do an awkward, “interpretive dance” audition in which she begs to be allowed to become a stripper, then we should also get to see the polished dancing that leads “Poppy” to propose marriage to her and an agent to propose a tour.
Mostly, I think, this play just really needs a full two acts.
So…as a 50-minute Fringe piece, I can’t say I enjoyed this. But as a demonstration of a new, local playwright’s potential, this is excellent.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com