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Ever wondered what goes on backstage at a strip club?

Ever wondered what goes on backstage at a strip club?

CoHo Productions bets that yes, you have, and its latest play, Live Girls, strives to show Portland what life is like as an exotic dancer. The setting is the locker room of a club called Bare Essentials, and while the audience is never privy to the characters’ stage performances, we do witness what are arguably the more interesting halves of their nights.

The trouble is, just how accurate or interesting are these behind-the-scenes scenes?

Natalie Rose, the woman who wrote Live Girls, is a self-described gypsy, and hand-in-hand with her many locales are many performance endeavors. She has been an actress, a singer, a dancer—even an exotic dancer—and now she is also making the foray into life as a playwright. Live Girls is not her first script, nor is it her first produced script, but Rose’s skills still fall easily between the brackets of amateur.

The characters in Live Girls are based on archetypes of strippers Rose has known. The line-up, then, includes: Cherry (Alyssa Roehrenbeck), the young dancer who’s beaten regularly by her boyfriend and doesn’t use swear words because she’s Catholic; Baby (Pat Janowski), the too-old, big-mouthed dancer who’s trying to marry a customer and move on; Fantasy (Meegan Anslee), the Pacific beauty with a deadbeat baby daddy and a serious substance abuse problem; and Tigress (Danika Louise), the chesty expert pole dancer who’s working as a stripper to pay for school.

We also meet Divinity (played by Rocket, the only cast member with stripping credentials) and Sapphire (Briana Ratterman), two of the more seasoned and professional dancers. These are the two who are fierce, competitive and who—outside of Sapphire’s plans to star in pornography, promote sex toys and dance in Las Vegas—don’t discuss leaving. They are also relatively understated characters and a pleasure to watch on stage.

The “new girl”—the audience’s appreciated window into how one might become a stripper, and the inner-workings of the club—is Juli (Ileana Herrin), the cocktail waitress with debt and a long-term boyfriend. Predictably, good-girl Juli takes a bad turn: After finally consenting to compete in the club’s Amateur Night (under the pseudonym Ecstasy), Juli also cheats on her boyfriend with the club’s manager Jason (Jonah Weston) and becomes embroiled in a hot-headed mess.

The show is too long, running even beyond the two hours and fifteen minutes stated in the program, and the ending is abrupt—irritatingly abrupt, considering the time investment the viewers have made by curtain close. If a play runs over two hours, loose ends are hard to forgive; the intent to provoke discussion is no excuse.

Stage management and direction are spotty. The events of the play occur over a period of several weeks, and the progression from one day to the next is sometimes clumsy. Jackets, purses and shoes can believably remain in place (though moving them around wouldn’t hurt the temporal transition), but “cocaine” spills, strewn clothing and liquor bottles cannot. However, the cast members make excellent use of their stage space and the “mirrors” that mark the stage boundaries are very effectively utilized.

For a production that promises to “remove the veil of fantasy and witness the truth and rawness of each woman,” Live Girls is extremely dramatic. Unintended pregnancies, cat fights and cocaine overdoses are a little hard to swallow as truth. However, it’s probable that few outsiders would care to see the leg-shaving and eyeliner touch-ups that play out in actual strip club locker rooms, and so Rose’s decision to skimp on the banal is understandable.

Unfortunately, the fast life portrayed in Live Girls is not only overdone but is also a frustrating contribution to our society’s perceptions of strip clubs and the women who work in them. The most honest “inside look” Live Girls grants is at how the dancers teach Juli to find the courage to perform, and the way in which the girls discuss their regular customers. These moments are at once comical, touching and thought-provoking.

Although there is no full nudity in the play, there are breasts and plenty of butt cheeks. There are also plenty of four-letter words—presumably stripper vernacular, though it does feel forced at times.

Despite the criticism leveled here, Live Girls is as fun and aesthetically pleasing as it promises to be. The premise is awesome, and the stumbling evident in the performance is certainly fixable.