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BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Beauty of the Bump and Grind," playing at Boudoir Bar until Dec. 19, starts with an interesting premise - repressed women can bump, grind and strip their way to spiritual freedom. But somewhere in the middle, playwright Garrett McConnell (she also produced, directed and composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the songs) forgets a few major points.

First, the striptease was performed for men; second, it was performed for money; and third, everyone was supposed to have a good time.

It’s hard to tell whether these characters are having fun stripping off their outer garments, but in between the sexy stuff, there’s so much sobbing and sighing that the burlesque is certainly overwhelmed by the soap opera. The result is what might happen if "As the World Turns" was interpreted by Eve Ensler, performed by Gypsy Rose Lee and friends with a score by Rogers and Hammerstein - after they’ve had a few music lessons with Willie Nelson.

If nothing else, McConnell deserves credit for condensing what would have spanned several months on daytime television into a mere two hours and 45 minutes.

The story takes place in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s. Or at least it seems to until one of the characters starts talking about how after visiting Mecca, Malcolm X began thinking blacks should love whites - something that didn’t happen until the ’60s.

Madeline (Stephanie Van Vlack) is a working mother with an abusive husband, who one day, in a fit of rage (the cause is unknown), beats her until she’s black-and-blue and bloody. Madeline’s Cuban nanny, Clara (Maria Olivares), ends up being raped by Madeline’s husband before he beats up his wife.

When she’s not getting beaten up or yelling at her baby to be quiet, Madeline works in an office next to Violet (Christine Quinn), who after a bad day on the job, quits to pursue a career in writing. (Her opus appears to be a collection of interviews with the other women in the play.) But in order to pay the bills, she gets a job in a nightclub where she meets Mae (Daphne Crosby), a black, hat check girl.

There’s also a waitress at the neighborhood diner - a bespectacled racist named Lili (Mary Kelsey) who refuses to serve Mae, then stomps off in a huff to be replaced by the more sympathetic Ellen (played by the same actress wearing a wig).

If the storylines sound a bit stale, the dialogue is worse. It consists of phrases like, "You cut right to the chase. I admire that" and "I don’t give a rat’s ass. I’m me." When the ladies aren’t talking, they’re singing their blues. The music (arranged by and composed with Donathen Wilkinson) is not bad, but most of it is unsingable - at least by these women. (Although Crosby has a few belting moments that are inspiring.)

Despite their troubles, these ladies are able to rise out of the depths of their depression by taking off their clothes. Sometimes, the not-yet-fully-liberated women get stuck halfway though a strip and run off the stage clutching discarded garments to their chests.

The burlesque, which McConnell calls "an empowering art form, which allows every woman, with any body size, to accept their own bodies as a beautiful form," provides some of the brighter moments in the production. The stripping music, which is not original, is lively, rhythmic and quite enjoyable.

And the girls are wearing great underwear.

It’s hard to imagine how someone who loves burlesque as much as McConnell can make it so boring. It may be because she’s taken the tease out of striptease and the bawdiness out of the burlesque. It also could be that she’s written a play with an agenda instead of real people and a real plot.

At any rate, by the end of the play, this reviewer was so depressed, she could have used a liberating strip herself.

 

"The Beauty of the Bump and Grind," plays Dec. 11 at 7:30 pm, Dec. 12 at 3 pm, Dec. 17-18 at 7:30 pm and Dec. 19 at 3 pm, at Boudoir Bar (273 Smith St. between Sackett and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens). Admission is $10. For reservations, call (718) 624-8878.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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