nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
February 22, 2012
A strong contender for best title of the current season, Stripper Lesbians as a word pairing can serve as a salacious enticement and, through nothing more than focusing in a literal, straightforward way on queer women who take their clothes off for a living, a gentle rebuke to those who would buy a ticket for the sole purpose of leering. Kate Foster's script, structured in a series of connected vignettes, introduces us to Evan, who in the process of writing a dissertation on sex work, takes a job in a strip club, where she meets and falls for Aisha, who becomes the focus of Evan's study. Complicating factors is Evan's now-ex boyfriend, DJ, an actor whose enjoyment of the fact that Evan and Aisha can't stop making out in front of him is tempered by his bitterness at how Evan ended their relationship and for the purpose he perceives.
The strength of the characters is what makes Stripper Lesbians an enjoyable night at the theater, and enables the questions Foster's script has about sex and sex workers to come up due to organic character interactions rather than speechifying. The relationship between Evan and Aisha has a surprisingly high number of very interesting layers, given that it only has 45 minutes to unfold. DJ, as the outsider in the relationship, serves the same role in the script, commenting from a distance, and in one all-time-classic hang-your-hat-on-it bit of genius, goes to an audition for a Eugene O'Neill play by doing a monologue (in which he also plays multiple different sex workers) from Our Bodies, Our Selves. That, ladies and gentlemen, is comedy.
As the incorporation of that text indicates with no unnecessary subtlety, this is a play concerned with both women's bodies and inner selves. With the moral meaning, if any, of earning one's living by compelling/allowing people to gaze at one's nude body. With the differences in opinion of the implications of that act. With the way women relate to each other, and with men. It manages to wrestle with all these questions without coming off as a lecture on feminism, sex work, or anything of the sort, coming off as a bright, funny, and occasionally quite affecting work.
The show does display a bit of roughness around the edges, but nothing that would bother seasoned indie theatre audiences. All three actors—Amanda Berry, Joe Beaudin, and Samantha Cooper—are appealing and convincingly sincere, and if occasionally director Jeff Woodbridge doesn't necessarily block them terribly well, it certainly doesn't leave any lasting negative impact on the show as a whole. In any case, Woodbridge's sound design is quite fine and a distinct asset to the show.
Really, all sympathetic and nuances portrayals of sex work and thought-provoking meditations on feminism and gender aside, this is a show called Stripper Lesbians, which is an extremely fun thing for a show to be called. Both strippers and lesbians are fundamentally good things. How could the combination be otherwise? The fact that this play is more concerned with the eponymous characters when they have their clothes on is in no way a debit, and in fact its greatest asset: it cares about who people actually are.