Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Take Me Out to the Real World

Whoever said life is easy was a complete liar. There’s no easy button for the characters of Tyler Grimes’ Stripped. In Distilled Theatre Company’s production, a former baseball star turned PTSD military defunct comes home and attempts to reconnect to the life he once knew while battling the demons inside.
Stripped follows twenty-something Chester on his reconciliation tour alongside his buddies Calvin and Hobbes as a night at the strip club turns into a life-altering domino affect of drama. Their night of debauchery results in the reunion of Chester and his former pal Diana, who happens to work as a stripper. The chance meeting offers a whirlwind of old wounds and bad habits for Chester that ultimately leads to suffering for those around him. Tyler Grimes offers a poetically conversational script with characters that have a wide array of pain and ability to handle emotion. The characters each contain something that can be relatable to an audience yet they still have their own identity. The plot is all too familiar yet breathes new life into the surrounding situation. While the play is set up as Chester’s story, Grimes and the ensemble developed characters that happened to be much more interesting than Chester. In fact, the most interesting dynamic of the play happened to be between Hobbes and Sarah, Diana’s friend. Their dialogue felt the most honest as their characters seemed to be the most fleshed out on page and stage. But unfortunately, this wasn’t their tale entirely. The focal character, the link of the world was Chester. His journey and arc is the catalyst and serves as the primary focus of Act I. In Act II, he is predominantly missing from the party scene as attention is given to the buddies and their new lady friends. While this allowed the other characters to develop their own personal stories, this play isn't about them. This shift allowed the audience to care about these people and potentially hate Chester more. Whether intentional or not, Chester is a self-destructive monster with no redeemable qualities despite the demon that follows. Yet you hope he succeeds not for his own himself but because of his brother Stevie. The relationship between Chester and Stevie is one that wanted to be explored further. The love and bond of the siblings was something stunning to watch, especially in the video game scene.
While the supporting characters of Stripped may have been stronger overall, Chester could have been a more pivotal character had there been a deeper performance from Alexander McCarty. McCarty’s lackluster performance brought little to the pained character except little true emotional connection and much monotony. Chloe Malaise was a bit flat as Diana who brought a different type of pain to the stage. There were some extraordinarily strong performances that brought great life to the stage. Claire Rothrock delivers an exquisite performance as Sarah. Rothrock brought a natural ease and humor that balanced the heavy material nicely. Rothrock and Jordan McGill as Hobbes had wonderful chemistry, allowing McGill to offer a complete performance. Christian Daly as baseball prospect Calvin brought heartthrob to the trio though when he breaks away with Diana he seemed to struggle.
Director Victoria Flores had difficulty keeping the momentum going. The overall pacing was extremely slow. The flow was not aided by the muddy as hell transitions with a clunky set by John Lavigne and a lag of music fading in by sound designer Lisha Brown. Flores’ navigation of her primary ensemble was fine but some of the most unfortunate staging snafus came quite often throughout the party scene. The script calls for multi-locations to be present on stage and show the various parts of the shindig. However, despite freezing moments for the couples, the living room was always active even when the other moments were occurring. There were so many moments of action or crossing in front of the couples that their important dialogue was missed due to distracting extras. The use of extras may have secured the fact that Stripped may be better served on film if time and care in pacing was the ultimate goal.
Stripped is a play with great potential. In baseball terms, some of the players just weren’t making contact with the ball. With a stronger team, Stripped could be a contender for something great.

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