State of Undress
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
August 15, 2009
Before seeing State of Undress, I did some "boning" up on burlesque. Its roots are in vaudeville, satire, and performance art that took a decidedly adult turn in the United States, and the Impulse Initiative's offering for this summer's FringeNYC Festival. "State of Undress" is the name of a burlesque joint where the audience gets a "peep" behind the show and into the lives of its employees. There's Chicago Rouge, who is trying to decide if she should leave New York with her boyfriend, a singer in the house band (the terrific Hell and Fire Brimstone Club) named Sam. Then there are the other dancers—the ambitious Mason Dixon, the patriotic Tick Tick Boom, and the comical and feisty OoLa Toosh, who treats the audience to her spicy and tantalizing "Love Jones." The latest addition is Dolores, bartender and wannabe stripper, yearning to fit in, yearning to find her gimmick.
Emcee Glammer (performed by Katie Naka, also the playwright), tells the audience that all the dancers are there by choice "and we want to take our clothes off—we just need a little encouragement." All the performers are clearly accomplished dancers; in particular, Tymish Harris, Elisa Gonzales, and Colette Brandenburg are outstanding and choreographers Katelyn Foley and Miriam Wasmund do a terrific job creating memorable dances. Some of the acting, however, comes off as a bit presentational and flat. We see the employees of "State of Undress" celebrate the fun of their jobs, but we also see them lament the unfulfilling parts of their lives and the fleeting satisfaction they seem to find in their work. Seeing the slightly seamy side takes a bit of the shine off of truly enjoying the dance numbers. It's not as much fun to see a woman's striptease performance after hearing her depressing monologue, but luckily, Naka's character sets things back on track: "If life gives you lemons, make burlesque!" and then performs a show-stopping striptease.
With a few exceptions, the satirical and vaudevillian aspects of American burlesque seem to have been forgotten here. The patter that starts the second act and the "magic trick" are bawdy, comical, and truly frisky and satisfying bits. The play would have benefited from more such skits and bits, some judicious editing, and excising the intermission. It is as if playwright Naka is trying to have an old school musical, a serious examination of the life of a burlesque dancer, and the wild and fun party aspect of striptease all at once. This makes for an uneasy menage-a-trois and the piece becomes less of a striptease and more of just a tease. Anyone going to State of Undress expecting "true" classic burlesque will be disappointed, but there are some fine dance performances, clothing shed, and pasties twirling.