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.