A well-done striptease promises more than it delivers. Such is also the case with “Melody Jones, a Striptease in Two Acts,” a play by Dan Gerrity and Jeremy Lawrence that is having its world premiere at the Cast Theatre.
Director Ron Link’s vivid production provides his usual expert pacing, eye-catching imagery and superb performances. But it can’t quite disguise the fact that the play is a disjointed jumble that fails to fully develop either its central character or its central idea.
The setting is Baltimore in the early 1970s, at a tacky strip club– which, as it turns out, doubles as a gay bar. (It’s the perfect front: Who could accuse a man entering a strip joint of being homosexual?)
The proprietor and sometime entertainer is one Melody Jones, a gay man with a deformed left arm and a melancholy attitude toward life.
The wisp of a plot concerns Melody’s short-lived but passionate relationship with a college student from Australia who can’t admit to himself–or his wife–that he’s gay. Melody coaxes the man into recognizing his true nature, but the transformation proves transitory.
The story is presented in the form of a strip show; when strippers aren’t baring their bodies, characters are usually baring their souls.
Much of the play consists of monologues in which the club’s employees explain how they ended up at this establishment and how they manage to find some dignity in their often-degrading work.
The result is a pseudo “Chorus Line” in which “Tits and Ass” are shown rather than sung about.
That would be fine except the employees’ stories are predictable and cliched (one stripper was sexually abused as a child; the piano player once trained as a classical musician), and they take away valuable time from the more intriguing dilemma of the title character.
Through Melody, the play explores the interesting notion of how people deal with real-life relationships after being conditioned by sexual fantasies. Melody packages fantasy and he would like very much live in it; he’s always talking of trying to preserve and relive special moments.
But once he begins an actual relationship, Melody discovers that fantasy images can form a barrier to genuine intimacy. In time, it’s revealed why he’s trying so hard to connect emotionally with his audience: It’s easier than doing so on a one-on-one basis.
This concept deserves to be explored in more depth–perhaps in a reworked version of this play. Less time spent with the club’s employees and more with Melody and his lover could result in a remarkable work.
Co-playwright Gdrrity gives a quietly moving performance in the title role. Wearing a white tux, slicked-back hair and a bit of eye shadow, he reminds one a bit of the emcee in “Cabaret,” except in place of Joel Grey’s mischevious malevolence there is more of a wistful longing.
The supporting cast is equally good, with Leslie Sachs a standout as a young Catholic go-go dancer who gradually loses her inhibitions. Andy Daley’s set is appropriately tacky.