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Written partly in verse and acted with great skill, this play though remarkable in some ways proves unable to encompass the numerous large subjects it takes on together with the ambitions of its language.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Stripped’ by Stephen Clark

Stripped play by Stephen Clark, by Team on Fire
Photo courtesy of http://teamonfireproductions.jimdo.com/
Berlin-based Teamonfire has brought Stephen Clark’s unusual play Stripped to New York City’s The Tank for a brief Off-Off-Broadway run. Beginning with a sequence of evocative black-and-white projections showing people hurrying alone through city streets, this two-hander written partially in verse stars Sara Fay George and Timothy Hopfner as a couple getting ready for a blind date arranged via a personal ad. They hit it off, but not without roadblocks, and progress into an ecstatic and then troubled relationship. Well written and well played, taken together the play turns out to be too much to digest. (I’ll admit the stifling heat in the theater didn’t help.) Yet large parts of Stripped are unique and compelling.

First off, the language: The interactive scenes are in straight if slightly elevated prose, but substantial parts of the play consisting of alternating monologues come to us in verse. Sometimes iambic pentameter, sometimes not, it’s always rooted in the Anglo-Saxon (and thus more plainspoken-sounding) side of English rather than the Latinate side. Mostly easy to follow, though Hopfner often speaks his lines quite rapidly, these elevated passages serve the purpose I imagine Clark intended of casting Emma and James’s ostensibly typical personalities and life stories in Shakespearean high relief both prior to and after their meeting.

As directed by Berlin-based Monika Gossmann, Emma and James come smartly alive as they repeatedly dress and undress, conveying the passage of days and weeks as James hits upon just the right phrasing for his personal ad. In that narrow sense, Stripped is a period piece, as, since the dawning of the digital age, personal ads have mostly gone the way of the TV aerial – haven’t they? Anyway, meeting for the first time in an East Village bar they stutter through an awkward conversational mating ritual (in prose) before proceeding awkwardly to Emma’s apartment.

In keeping with the protagonists’s action-packed sexual histories, the play includes a good deal of nudity, not pruriently but to dramatize the baring of their souls. In a climactic scene they bare all as a mutual challenge to once and for be totally honest with one another. By this point, though, I’d seen enough of these characters (and their bodies), because the script tries to cover too much material for a one-act: poetry and prose, the single life, modern courtship, love and sex, whether to have a baby, commitment, abandonment. Although Clark is as adept with realistic dialogue as with verse, the play could have sustained its power better without much of the last third or so. Written and acted with great skill, and a remarkable piece in some ways, the play proves unable to encompass the numerous large subjects it takes on together with the ambitions of its language.

Stripped runs one more weekend, through September 20. Tickets are available online.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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