By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
This, among other vagaries, is a consequence of Gerrity's gentle, boyish charm, which made him so right to play a corporate lawyer in the musical Twist of Fate three seasons ago (at the Tiffany, also directed by Link). Here, however, his endearing qualities stir the sexual tension between Jones and Dixon into a warm porridge. Gerrity's soulful performance, with those hound-dog eyes, turns the heartbroken Jones into someone you want to hug. Which would all be very well if Jones weren't so obviously intended to come across as a Mack-the-Knife charmer of an MC, parading in white tux and top hat. To see a charismatic Brechtian reptile fall in love would be a heart-stopping plunge off a cliff. To watch Gerrity fall in love is like stepping off a curb.
There have been quite a few changes in the flesh industry since the early '70s, when Melody Jones takes place. (Most of the changes since the play's 1992 premiere at the Cast Theater have occurred in cyberspace.) Yet the allure of stripping has retained its intoxicating, prurient appeal. In the wake of Demi Moore's Striptease, there's been a flood tide of TV and video movies set in strip clubs, not to mention a renaissance of nude flesh on local legit stages, from last season's The Bacchae, to Strip: Bare-ly Legal (still running at the Hudson), to the recently opened Burning Blue (Court Theater) - the latter two packing in the gay market.
What makes Melody Jones a significant work is the way it addresses the emotional fallout as erotic tastes drift from softcore to hard (once the G-string comes off, there's no turning back) - the posing and posting of anatomies on stages, on pages or on the Web. To this extent, Melody Jones is more timely than ever, even if it does include a curiously quaint lament for the "decency" of old-fashioned vaudeville houses like Minsky's Burlesque.
As the play's advocate for the more wholesome striptease of an age gone by, a dancer named Tess (the sprightly Gloria LeRoy) - a "tit-twirler" in her 50s - bristles against the encroaching vulgarity in the profession Gypsy Rose Lee made honorable, referring specifically to a younger competitor, Brenda "the Breast" (Christina Whitaker), who, in one inspired moment on stage, inserts a bottle into whichever orifice will tolerate it. The art of stripping, Tess tells us, lies in the suspense, the tease, so betrayed by Brenda's lurid exhibition.
In theory, Tess is right, but when it comes to defending her theory, she hasn't a clue. For Brenda's bottle-in-the-hole trick is more about parody than titillation. The humor of her admittedly perverse display completely escapes Tess and, I believe, the playwrights themselves, who, without apparent irony, have the indignant Jones fire Brenda immediately following her performance. Tess means to convey that eroticism comes from the imagination, not the groin, and that the greatest effect of its presentation therefore depends on subtlety - a dubious reflection from someone who has spent the larger part of her life heaving her breasts over her shoulders as a kind of circus trick.
At least she's got the imagination part right. In his epic poem Eugene Onegin, Aleksandr Pushkin devotes at least four stanzas to worshiping his heroine's foot. The images are anything but subtle, yet they're assembled in the mind's eye by the mental process of converting marks on a page into fetishist pictures - a process not so different from "reading" video images of models masturbating and copulating. The sex industries have built their empires on wedding the imagined to the explicit, a marriage that is really about issues of power and imagined power that philosophers have been debating ever since pornography first arrived on the scene. This marriage, like Melody Jones, has less to do with flesh and blood than with telephone lines and credit cards, with walls of paper and glass.