Local production ‘StripHer’ disappoints

Michael Milhim and Michael Milhim

CORRECTION: This review states that the writer and director of the play, Amber Jardin and Mary Kate Ritchey, decided to become strippers for a summer to write a play about their experiences. This was incorrectly assumed from a statement made by Ritchey during the Friday date of the show’s Q & A session. In reality, Ritchey and Jardin stripped out of finacial need with the idea of making a play about their experiences being an afterthought. Also, this staging was intended to be more of a workshop rather than a polished production.

When a theatrical production doesn’t meet the standard of the community that it’s staged in, it’s difficult because you know that the cast and crew put so much effort into what they did. Effectively, you’re also negating a person’s abilities, whether it be the director, the writer, or anyone else. This was the case for the recent Elsewhere production of the original student written and directed play StripHer, which premiered over the weekend of October 2-4 in the Eva Marie Saint Theater. It wasn’t up to the BGSU Theater Department standard.

I had access to the production’s script, and that’s where the issues started: the writing was not good. The dialogue didn’t feel like it was strippers talking to each other, it felt like sitcom characters talking to each other. Was the play about Marie, the new girl? Was it about how you can’t judge someone by their profession? Was it about reaffirming the equal worth of dancers as human? I’m not sure anyone who saw the play could rightfully answer what that play was about, and I’m not sure if that was the intention of the creators. There wasn’t really any central plot theme or progression, but rather things just sort of happened, and they had their little points of advocacy attached to them. For example, there is a scene where two of the dancers are sexually assaulted by customers, then mistreated by the club owner, but the reason for this scene — or any scene — is hazy at best.

There was a good supply of clichés here, like the lost innocence of Marie, or the forced nostalgia of the ending toast to “never forgetting.” I understand that it’s difficult to write a play, but that’s not an excuse for a sub-par script.

This brings me to the next point about the representational basis of the production. The director and writer of StripHer, Mary Kate Ritchey and Amber Jarden, said in a Q and A session after the Friday production that they stripped themselves for a summer in Toledo with the intention of writing a play about their experiences. This is a flawed foundation because it exercises an appropriation of culture and also a sense of social and economic privilege. Can anyone really understand what it means to be a stripper after a summer of doing it? Does that mean that I understand what it’s like to be a trans woman after dressing and acting like a woman for a few months? The lack of depth in the play unethically represents stripper culture as vain and simple – just skimpy outfits and reality TV conversations.

There are redeeming qualities to this play though. The minimalist stage design was used well, and the scene transitions were confident and professional; the music was catchy and perfect for the production, plus it didn’t get in the way of the actors’ lines, which is not an easy feat with such a small budget and crew (the play was free to everyone). It would have been an awkward hour if the stripper characters were not comfortable being sexual, but they were all unabashed about strutting their stuff. The use of silence was one of the best techniques in the whole productions and almost every time it was used it had an effective impact.

Even with all these excellent qualities on the actors’ part, the play felt amateur. The elements for a good play were all present, but between writing and direction these elements did not come together. My recommendation is that StripHer should be staged again with a reformed script and more theater experienced direction. From an academic perspective it would perfectly model how to be reflective and reflexive during the creation process because the old and new production could be placed side-by-side to compare and contrast. An opportunity as such would be good for the cast and crew, the theater community here at BG and the academic community at large.