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THEATER REVIEW : Females Under Siege : A debuting playwright has turned her experiences as a stripper into a raw drama.

August 13, 1993|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Imagine a stripper at the Star Garden in North Hollywood or at any of the fleshpots along Sepulveda Boulevard quitting her night job to create a scorching, honest play about the effects of taking it off for the yahoos in a strip joint.

That's exactly what debuting playwright Allyson Adams did. Adams, daughter of the late actor Nick Adams, used to bump and grind for a living in a mid-Gotham bar. But she was doing more than paying the rent. She was observing. And she has turned her experiences into a raw but searing drama about exploitation, double sexual standards and females under siege that is free of cliches and bawdily devoid of political correctness.

"Pink," at the American Renegade Theatre, developed in its Foundary program for original works, is, contrary to published reports (including by the playwright herself), definitely about sex--its power, its fantasy, its use, abuse and, finally, its relationship to love.

That may sound like a fearsome load, fraught with didactic danger. But Adams, working from the dank, murky dressing room and garish stage of a tacky strip club, has turned a stripper's squalor into a working metaphor for the quagmire of female identity and male domination.

And once these women start their dance routines, you can feel also their fleeting moment in the sun, the aggressive, even haughty beat of sexual power, fleeting and illusory as it is.

Some feminists, seeing the point of the play, will embrace it. But most will find its portraits of women hard to take.

"Pink" is insider stripper jargon for female genitalia. At one point, the three strippers laughingly mock one another backstage: "Show pink!"

The wit in the play supports its fierce tone, as when the central stripper, a cynical, riveting character named Brandy (played by Kelli Maroney, a Kim Basinger look-alike) impatiently complains about her bosses, cracking, "They never change the music on the jukebox. They're still playing 'Purple Rain'!"

Occasionally, in its softer moments, the dialogue is like gentle rainwater, as when the mellow club bartender (Willie Brown) tries to help the desperate Brandy carve a path out of her personal jungle with the soothing advice, "The bottom line is always desire. If you want it bad enough, you'll change."

Considering that director Gail Bearden is making her debut, the production is surprisingly sturdy, melodramatic twists notwithstanding. That's due to the play's uncompromising, unflinching X-rated toughness (not recommended for the frail of heart and mind) and to a set of vital performances, notably Maroney's Brandy, whose weathered and weary visage captures the depths of both anger and need.

Also crucial to the mood is the stark lighting design of Jeff Calderon.

On the downside, the production is too long, with some scenes either expendable (as in the opening Tarot card reading) or trimmable (such as Brandy's encounter with a club patron who's a meek and fascinated cross-dresser, wonderfully played by Gary Collier).

Structurally, the play segues too often into dream-like sequences that are well-written, but confuse and fragment its flow.

Of course, there's genuine stripping in the show, and this production pays more than lip service to the art that Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr very nearly made respectable.

And with how-to pointers from playwright Adams, the stripping is very professional-looking (occasionally erotic but never obscene).

Where and When What: "Pink." Location: American Renegade Theatre Foundary. 11305 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Hours: Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Aug. 29. Price: $10-$12. Call: (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours.

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