By the end of Strip! Bare-ly Legal you find out who is circumcised and who wears cock rings -- in both the cast and the audience. Nominally a theater piece, Strip! Bare-ly Legal is actually an erotic male-dance revue with little plot and a lot of wit. (The show's billed as an "environmental" piece, which means that the play goes on in and among the audience a la Tony and Tina's Wedding.) Strip! distinguishes itself from the slap-and-wriggle dancing of the Tenderloin fun houses with practiced choreography, but there's still ample opportunity to tip dollar bills into jockstraps.
Instead of turning lewd, the licentiousness fuels buoyant, naked fun, suspicious stains on the velour parlor couches notwithstanding. On the sidewalk outside the South of Market Rococo Showplace, paying guests mingle with actors and the "host," Uncle Mortie. The story is that Mortie is springing for an 18th-anniversary party at the club for David and Todd, complete with cake for everyone. Once inside the den of arched brick and gilt cherubs, guests are introduced to the entertainment, a dance corps called the Tomcats. They enter in skimpy lycra and leopard prints, the most clothing the men sport all night. A Tomcat in training, Precious, circulates with a box of T-shirts, candy, and change for tipping the dancers. Give him the chance and Precious will shyly tell you about his day job in a dance store with miles of colored leggings.
The plants in the audience are even better; sitting across from the anniversary couple is Matt, the fiance of David's ex-wife. Straight, miserable, and mildly homophobic, he sulks throughout the show and draws nervous tension away from the bald and glossy bodies on stage. He's also a preemptive warning to audience members who aren't good sports and don't sing along when prompted -- because no one wants to be like that stiff from Walnut Creek. The club's maitre d', Mr. Mephistopheles, whispers gossip about the attractive Matt to the women in the audience. Smile for Mr. Mephistopheles, ladies, and maybe you'll be pulled up on stage (I know this from sad experience), wound up in Jimmy Bob's rope trick, and get up-close-and-personal with Jimmy Bob's G-string.
But the ringleader and star of Strip! Bare-ly Legal is Ms. Kitty (a.k.a. Stephen J. McCarthy). The proprietress of the club sings, tangos, pimps her boys, and works the audience with flirty ad-lib. "Wiggle!" she orders Precious. "Wait for your tip!" she commands. ("Oooo, Cirque du Soleil!" she coos as he stands on a chair.) The line between performers and audience, fuzzy to begin with, is gone by the end of the show. Things devolve into an amateur strip show, as Ms. Kitty hand-picks men from the crowd to indulge in an exhibitionist fantasy. One genuine member of the audience came prepared with snap-off underwear. It's a good night at the theater when you've been tied up and permitted to remove a man's cotton thong, but it's even better when simple stunts and solid performers convince you to leave politics and apprehensions at the door and just have fun.
-- Julie Chase
Cracking the Cosmic Egg
Going, Going, Gone. Written and directed by Anne Bogart. Performed by the Saratoga International Theater Institute: Ellen Lauren, Tom Nelis, Karenjune Sanchez, and Stephen Webber. At the Magic Theater, May 7 to 18.
An elegant middle-aged couple pauses on the threshold of a futuristic living room. There's a white couch and a portable bar of neon liquors. "'God does not play dice.' Who said that?" the woman barks. "Hey, who said that? 'God does not play dice'!" The man -- yammering about space, time, black holes, and quarks -- ignores her. Nothing they say resembles ordinary conversation outside of the theoretical physics wing of the local NASA lab. And yet, as they banter about molecules, quibble over the big bang, and fix each other drinks in their Jetsons-inspired abode, there is something oddly familiar about their interaction. Against the starry sky backdrop, a younger, primly dressed couple approaches in slow motion. Suddenly, you realize that while the script almost entirely comprises technical discussions of new physics, the emotional action follows the arc of Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Welcome to the postmodern universe of Ann Bogart's Going, Going, Gone. Anyone familiar with the work of the New York-based experimental-theater director will not be surprised by the heady brew of quantum mechanics, philosophy, and classic American drama. Since 1993, Bogart and her company, the Saratoga International Theater Institute, have been pioneering an expressionistic, physical approach to theater that severs language from its ordinary usage and rebuilds meaning through a technique called "The Viewpoints." The result is an elegiac shadow of ordinary communication: visually fertile, intellectually weighty, and emotionally distant.
This esoteric approach to performance would seem to be the perfect vehicle for a play that claims to "translate the recent breakthroughs in quantum physics into a theatrical realm." To create the script, Bogart and her company assembled a quotation collage that intersperses the writings of physicists like Einstein, Heisenberg, and Stephen Hawking with passages from the Bible, T.S. Eliot, Poe, Goethe, Robert Frost, and Lewis Carroll. But Going, Going, Gone does not crack the cosmic egg for our collective understanding. Rather, it showcases the otherworldly talents of its performers.
Like many artists and popular writers in recent years, Bogart is trying to argue that the precepts of the new science are the creation myth of our time. Like the pop physics- inspired movie Mindwalk, Bogart buys into the spurious notion that scientific concepts can function as a philosophical foundation for modern life. Chaos theory, black holes, and curved time may ignite our imaginations, but these phrase are largely groovy names for reams of mathematical equations referring to a conjectured, hypothetical reality. When the concepts are transplanted into human terms, the meanings become twisted and trivialized. Like the 19th-century social Darwinists who invoked Darwinian biology to explain racial inequality, people who employ the new physics as an ad-hoc philosophy not only distort the ideas' original intents, they unknowingly preach metaphysical beliefs in the name of scientific "fact." For instance, in her explanatory essay, Bogart asserts that "Physicists agree that you cannot focus with too much effort on the notions in the new physics because the act of looking changes them. You must use an indirect approach. You must use fuzzy logic." This is just a bastardization of the Heisenberg Principle, which makes for an effective metaphor in certain anthropological situations (a documentary crew, for example, altering the reality it's filming). But it's not meant to suggest that scientists do not think deductively or that we shouldn't.