08 Fringe: “Stripped”

Greg Browning and Amy Pettinella in “Stripped”

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

15 thoughts on “08 Fringe: “Stripped””

  1. I found the show to be lovely. Yes, I am a friend of Ms. P’s, but I happen to look at her work with a very critical eye as well. I’ve known she was working on Stripped but never got to peek at her original script nor attended any dress rehearsals. I also think out of all of her shows, this was the one show where she was not playing “herself” as you seemed to think. I think many other actresses could’ve picked up this script and embraced this character just as smoothly as Amy did.

    Let me ask you, would you have rather had the unhappy ending? I do know before she produced this piece she had mentioned to me an ending that was quite depressing. She changed it after some terrible difficulties in her personal life and brought the ending to a positive note.

    I think this show correctly portrays the inner workings of the mind and how conflicted people can be.

    Yes she wants protection, security, etc. but pushes it away when it arrives. What person hasn’t done that?

    Fear is the basis of this character, and I think everyone of us could relate to her character is some fashion.

    What we are left in the end of this show is simply, hope (ironic that is your name but you failed to see this message).

    Oh and ps…it’s “Pappy”, not “Poppy”.

    Thank you.

  2. I too am a friend of Ms P’s and I’m so proud of her and this work that she’s put together. She’s been getting some really positive feedback from audience members. And I find it insulting that because you didn’t like it, you were “incredulous” about people standing and applauding or thinking that it was good writing. Not every work of art will speak to everyone, but you shouldn’t be surprised when something you don’t like is enjoyed by others.

    Furthermore, I can assure you that this play was never intended as a “showcase” for her body. Anyone who knows Amy, knows that this is so far from her intent and purpose. Amy believes in taking risks, in inhabiting and creating characters that are flawed and interesting. Her first purpose in this play was to show a relationship between two complex and flawed people. NOT as you insinuate to show off her body!

    AND for the record there have been plenty of people who enjoyed the play and understood it who did not previously know Amy.

    Saying that, I thank you for coming out and for taking the time to review her work.

  3. I actually enjoyed the show. I didn’t know Amy before I saw it and don’t know her now. I found several comments to be witty and enjoyed the journey of the relationship between the two characters. That said, the ending felt rushed and unrealistic.

    I also felt that some of the facial expressions that Amy used during her performance looked forced, but I understand the feelings she was trying to portray.

    I saw the show on Friday night.

  4. Got to check this piece out yesterday (27-Aug) and waited until today to read your comments. A few comments in response…

    1. I thought that the voice over was an appropriate mechanism because the voice is meant to be an older version of Paul commenting about the past while we (as the audience) watch it. Breaking the fourth wall would have given the impression of Paul in his current age giving comments/feedback about what just happened. The writing would have been completely different (i.e. more emotional) for breaking the fourth wall due to the perspective that Paul would be talking from.

    2. I suspect that your desire for a second act and difficulty connecting with the characters are related. I, too, would have liked to have seen the events that lead to Bev’s turnaround. This would have been good material for a shorter second act. Perhaps Pettinella wanted to stress the need for some people to hit rock bottom before turning things around and she wasn’t as interested in the “recovery” process. I would guess that a second act highlighting the characters turnaround may have allowed you to better connect to the character.

    3. I don’t agree with the statement that Pettinella wrote the piece to showcase her body. If it was, you surely would have seen Bev’s “polished dancing”.

    4. I agree with your comments about the work being driven by Pettinella’s personal experiences, but I believe this is true of ALL writers. Unfortunately for Pettinella most writers don’t take on the multiple roles of writer, director and actor so they never experience this criticism. Part of the beauty of a new work is having the collaborative effort of these three individuals working to shape and polish the finished product. Perhaps this is an area for growth in the future.

    All in all I have to highlight your final comment about being excited about a new, local playwright getting it done and putting out a new work with good writing. Pettinella obviously has great potential. I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.

  5. Thanks very much, John and Matt, for taking the time to a) carefuly read what I wrote and b) write these thoughtful comments. I really appreciate these contributions to my blog.

  6. Ms. Baugh,
    I have seen a few of her original works and have liked all of them, including her latest play Stripped. It is difficult to take your criticism seriously when you unabashedly point out that you are jealous of her physique. Just as you suggest that she let her film sensibilities cloud her judgement as a stage writer, perhaps you have let your jealousies of her appearance cloud your ability to write an unbiased review.

    In reference to your comment that Beverly is simply unbelievable because she continues to make bad decisions and then complains of the consequences, might I suggest a similar scenario?

    Say a person is overweight. They hate being overweight. It makes them feel terrible about themselves. But every night they keep over eating and gaining more weight. Then they see someone who doesn’t overeat, and they get jealous and wish they looked like that person.

    The character Beverly never felt worthy of the simple and respectable life she once dreamed of having. But just as fat people are able to lose weight, her characer finally changed her behavior to get a more desireable outcome.

    I agree with the poster above that you insult other audience members simply because they like something that you don’t.

    You also error in your logic. If Pettinella were simply wanting to show off her body, she would have actually stripped. The clothing she wore for the play was no more scanty than anything you would see on a beach, and is more than the Birdmann wore in the final scene of his show, but you did not attack him.

    These things make you a reviewer with dubious credibility, but I hope you contiune to hone your craft and will one day offer a service to the burgeoning theater community in Indianapolis rather than just biased opinions and petty complaints.

    Best,
    Garr

  7. Thanks, Garr, for taking the time to read my blog and to leave a detailed and thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it.

    I pointed out that I was jealous of the actor’s physique in order to be honest about my bias. I could have pretended to be a theatre authority and simply called the show “tedious” and “self-aggrandizing” (which are the words I have in my notes), but I realized as I was writing my review that I was jealous of the actor.

    So…I wanted to let my readers know that I had had a strong, personal reaction to the show that they might not have.

    For the same reason, I pointed out that other people who were in the same audience as I had completely different, more positive reactions.

    Again, I wanted to let my readers know that not everyone in the room had had the same reaction I had had, and they should therefore take my review with a grain of salt.

    However, beyond the jealousy, there are several artistic choices in the show as presented that do not work for me: the recorded narration, the lack of character development, the rushed ending, and so on.

    HOWEVER, I encouraged, and still encourage, everyone to see the show for themselves, not in order to “agree” or “disagree” with me (although I welcome further comments), but just to see something new by a promising local playwright.

  8. PS – I get what Matt and Garr are saying about how if Pettinella really wanted to show off her body, she would have stripped. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

    I do, however, agree that having Beverly strip completely would be too much.

    I have never said that Beverly should strip completely.

    However, showing Beverly dancing awkwardly but NOT showing Beverly dancing well is a weakness, a missed opportunity, in the play.

    She does not have to take off more of her clothes in order to demonstrate that she has improved as a dancer.

    As it is, we only see the back of the man’s head, supposedly looking at her polished dancing through a crack in the curtain. If she were dancing in front of all of us, the man and the audience, we would all get to see that she has changed AND we would get to see the reactions on the man’s face as he struggles with his own feelings of desire, frustration, sympathy, love, and so on.

  9. I have not seen the show – I have no plans to see the show – but I find it interesting that those who do theatre to expand thinking (which is my personal take on the mission of fringe theatre)would be so put out by a reviewer’s opinion. You might not agree with it – but it is an opinion, and in my opinion expressed without rancor or hate in the review of this production.

    To suggest that a reviewer should be unbiased is absurd to me. Of course they are biased. Each audience member is biased by what they bring into the theatre upon viewing a production. The playwright was biased during the writing process, the director was biased when directing and the actors were biased and influenced by factors in their own lives.

    It has been an interesting discussion. I respect a director’s, playwright’s, actor’s or even another audience member’s right to share their own feelings about the production and/or review, but I don’t respect anyone thinking their opinion is the only correct one. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Hope’s reviews – she is willing to share her candid thoughts with respect while always urging others to see a performance and form their own opinions.

    Seems to me that if she is biased she is biased in the favor of the production.

    She walks a fine line because while she sometimes doesn’t speak favorably of the pieces or end result of a show, she always leaves the door open for further education and other opinions.

    With respect.
    kries

  10. Thanks, kries, for taking the time to read my blog and write your comments. I know I keep saying, “I really appreciate it,” but I _DO_.

    Thanks very much.

  11. Hope, It almost sounds like you have a thing for Ms. Pettinella and just want to see her strip. 😉 Kidding! Well, we would all like to see that, but I am impressed with the decisions she made and for keeping it a tasteful show. Surely an actual strip tease or facsimilie thereof would have have cheapened the deeper meaning of the play.

    But like you, I greatly anticipate seeing more of her work. Truly her work is not for everyone: she refuses to spoon feed her audience and her work is layered and complex, perhaps too much for the limitations of a sixty-minute no-frills fringe production.

    Limitations aside, I would hate to see a talent like hers leave the Fringe just because the masses seem to prefer jugglers, magicians, and comedians. Many people still want to see thought-provoking drama at the Fringe, so I hope that the (in my opinion undeserved) negative publicity about her work does not discourage her, as she is still very new at this. Pauline Moffat informed me that Pettinella has only been writing plays since November 2007, and that she is “plum-full” of ideas.

    The fringe is afterall, amateurs. Most of the performers work 40 hour weeks like the rest of us. The only difference is that they put in another forty hours writing and creating after they are off the clock. And then have the guts to produce it and perform it. I say that anyone who even attempts such a feat is already far more talented and brave than you or I could ever dream of being as mere watchers or reviewers.

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