# There's a funny and moving play buried in Phyllis Nagy's "The Strip," but another production is needed to make that fact apparent. Following on the heels of Nagy's 1991 "Disappeared," now on a U.K. tour, "The Strip" confirms one's hunch that expatriate American Nagy continues to be ill-served by British collaborators: After four major productions in England, only one -- the Court's previous "Weldon Rising"-- has done justice to Nagy's distinctive, fate-obsessed voice.

# There’s a funny and moving play buried in Phyllis Nagy’s “The Strip,” but another production is needed to make that fact apparent. Following on the heels of Nagy’s 1991 “Disappeared,” now on a U.K. tour, “The Strip” confirms one’s hunch that expatriate American Nagy continues to be ill-served by British collaborators: After four major productions in England, only one — the Court’s previous “Weldon Rising”– has done justice to Nagy’s distinctive, fate-obsessed voice.

A kaleidoscopic pinwheel of a play, “The Strip” cries out for the fluid, uncluttered approach of, say, Declan Donnellan. Instead, unhelpfully directed by Steven Pimlott on a hideous set by Tobias Hoheisel, it’s a visual and thematic jumble that becomes clear only after one has read the text. “Angels in America” fans, however, will be kept busy tracking Nagy’s Kushner-esque affinities; she may be making her name in Britain, but her millennial concerns remain profoundly American.

In essence, “The Strip” is a road movie onstage, yoking together 10 Britons and Americans in collisions as random (or not) as the workings of the slot machines whose din opens the play. The mysterious manipulator is one Otto Mink (Nicholas le Prevost), a ubiquitous presence who sets the characters on course to either Las Vegas or Liverpool. At the outset, he appears before female female impersonator Ava Coo (Deirdre Harrison) with an order to go to Tumbleweed Junction — which Ava does, even though she has no idea where it is.

Accompanied by British repo man Calvin (William Osborne) and, after a while, by lesbian journalist Kate Buck (Nancy Crane), Ava turns out to be headed straight for her mother, Tina (Amanda Boxer), who lives in Las Vegas and is given to reciting long, quasi-philosophical letters to her daughter into a Dictaphone. Across the Atlantic in an Earls Court hotel is Ava’s errant father, Lester (Nicholas Farrell), a Klansman and Virginia political hopeful on the run with wife Loretta (Cheryl Campbell) for having killed 27 Baptist ministers at a truck stop in Lynchburg.

Lester and Loretta’s room looks out on a gay couple, whom, in Nagy’s providential game plan, it is their destiny to encounter. While Lester is unwittingly seduced by musclebound Martin (Patrick O’Kane) in a neighborhood bar , Loretta befriends his lover, Tom (John Padden), an employee in a pawn shop owned by Mink’s alias, Murphy Greene. Throw in the men’s astrology-minded chum, Suzy (Caroline Harker), a distant object of Kate Buck’s desire, and the round robin of connection is complete: Why settle for six degrees of separation when you can winnow it down to two or three?

Like “Disappeared,””The Strip” is about the desire to travel, not least because traveling helps us connect, a desire felt by everyone in the play. It shares with “Angels” a belief in the portentous — in imminent apocalypse — that finishes both acts with the same heavenward expressions of awe seen on Prior Walter’s face at the end of “Millennium Approaches.” (The apparition this time is a solar eclipse and, then, a sphinx that cracks open to reveal Otto Mink within.)

Does it add up? Yes, given the spiky writing and a good cast headed by the ever-appealing Campbell and the no less drolly cast-against-type Farrell. No, since one turns away at once from designer Hoheisel’s ugly visuals — though Nagy’s stage directions (“the Ouija board’s pointer flies off violently and with great speed”) aren’t exactly the stuff of a director’s dreams. Set in what looks like a giant latrine resembling Nagy’s 1994 “Butterfly Kiss,” the play needs a dreamier, and quieter, staging than the nervous production it gets here.

Still, there’s something bracing about “the endless possibilities” of a world in which opposites really do attract, allowing for multiple pairings as intriguing as the results of a one-armed bandit. For the moment, one is left awaiting a “Strip” stripped bare — a prospect that I, for one, am eager to see.

Does it add up? Yes, given the spiky writing and a good cast headed by the ever-appealing Campbell and the no less drolly cast-against-type Farrell. No, since one turns away at once from designer Hoheisel’s ugly visuals — though Nagy’s stage directions (“the Ouija board’s pointer flies off violently and with great speed”) aren’t exactly the stuff of a director’s dreams. Set in what looks like a giant latrine resembling Nagy’s 1994 “Butterfly Kiss,” the play needs a dreamier, and quieter, staging than the nervous production it gets here.

Still, there’s something bracing about “the endless possibilities” of a world in which opposites really do attract, allowing for multiple pairings as intriguing as the results of a one-armed bandit. For the moment, one is left awaiting a “Strip” stripped bare — a prospect that I, for one, am eager to see.

The Strip

Production

A Royal Court Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Phyllis Nagy. Directed by Steven Pimlott. Sets and costumes, Tobias Hoheisel.

Crew

Lighting, Peter Mumford; sound, Paul Arditti. Opened, reviewed March 1, 1995, at the Royal Court; 395 seats; $:18 ($ 30) top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Amanda Boxer (Tina), Cheryl Campbell (Loretta), Nancy Crane (Kate Buck), Nicholas Farrell (Lester), Caroline Harker (Suzy), Deirdre Harrison (Ava Coo), Nicholas le Prevost (Otto Mink), Patrick O'Kane (Martin), William Osborne (Calvin), John Padden (Tom Warner).

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