THEATER: “Naked Influence” @ Capital Repertory Theatre

February 2nd, 2016, 3:00 pm by Greg
(photo: Douglas C. Liegib)

“Naked Influence” at Capital Repertory Theatre (photo: Douglas C. Liegib)

Review by Greg Haymes

“Sex… it’s always about power,” explains Lucy. “It’s never about love.”

And that pretty much sums up Suzanne Bradbeer’s “Naked Influence,” which is enjoying a world premiere run at the Capital Repertory Theatre in downtown Albany through Sunday, February 14. (OK, maybe it’s not exactly what you might call ideal Valentine’s Day fare…)

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It’s a dramatic tale that revolves around an exotic dancer, a Congressman, a cop and a three-legged dog, although not necessarily in that order.

For theater-goers of a certain age, the mere mention of “stripper” and “Congressman” in the same sentence likely conjures up memories of the notorious 1974 sex scandal involving stripper Fanne Fox (“the Argentine Firecracker”) and Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills. But as ripe for drama as that escapade is, this is not that story. Not by a longshot.

In fact, the whole storyline between dancer Lucy/Red (Amanda Sykes) and Washington politico Dennis (Robert Newman, best known for his 28-year run as Joshua Lewis on “The Guiding Light”) could be jettisoned from the script. It’s no fault of Newman, but his character is written so paper-thin and one dimensional that his curtain call earned him a hearty round of boos from the opening night audience, as though he were portraying some Snidley Whiplash-like caricature.

Fortunately Lucy/Red’s relationship with each of the other characters is considerably more nuanced, intriguing and fully fleshed out by Bradbeer. There’s her disapproving sister Sammie (Capital Rep regular Brenny Rabine, who provides the perfect balance of comic relief). There’s her boss at the gentleman’s club, Angie (Yvonne Perry, another Capital Rep regular and soap opera vet). And policeman Tommy (a pitch-perfect Andy Lucien) as Lucy’s love interest.

Jason Sherwood’s compact, minimalist yet versatile single-set stage design is framed between two stripper poles – expertly worked by dancers Frenchie (Julia Franklin) and Bijoux (Nazli Sarkaya) during the between-scene interludes – as Lucy’s story plays out like a tenuous dance across a mine-field of desire and empowerment.

Directed with aplomb by Cap Rep’s producing artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill with a sharp eye and a sure hand toward realism – kudos to the staff and employees of DiCarlo’s in Albany for their expert assistance in getting the club vibe down right – the play follows the journey of Lucy (magnificently portrayed by Amanda Sykes) as she considers her options beyond the onstage spotlight.

While the play as is at Capital Rep is sometimes too cliched and predictable, there are quite a number of sparkling moments. The acting is excellent across the board, and Mancinelli-Cahill makes the most of the material.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Sarah Weaver’s review at NY Theatre Guide
Excerpt from Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union: “‘Naked Influence,’ despite a fine staging by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, is incomplete, tepid. It needs rethinking and rewriting by the author to imbue it with the vitality the material deserves. As it currently exists, the play has a number of rewarding scenes, but by the end ‘Naked Influence’ is more frustrating than satisfying. That may be part of Bradbeer’s aim: Her main character, Lucy (Amanda Sykes), is a veteran exotic dancer at a club near Washington, D.C., and Bradbeer wants to explore the knotty intersections of erotic allure, female sexual empowerment and the self-perpetuating security of male privilege. That’s complicated, unsettled terrain, and perhaps a lack of certainty is appropriate, but in the case of “Naked Influence,” it feels less like the author is purposefully discomfitting her audience with irresolution than she hasn’t yet found a way to effectively dramatize her thoughts on the issues.”
Excerpt from Paul Lamar’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s typically sharp direction has elicited nuanced performances all around. Perry’s Angie doesn’t suffer fools gladly, though she would be the first to say that her life is a cautionary tale for the ‘girls’ she manages. Perry nails the irony. Newman’s Dennis reminds me of the creep in ‘Klute’: soft-spoken, seemingly reasonable, and seething with fury. He’s a hale-fellow-well-met — at your peril. Lucien makes us see what Lucy sees in Tommy with a buoyancy and directness that are charming, thus making his Act II reactions to the news about her job all the more poignant. Rabine plays Sammie as perky, preachy, and protective in equal measure, but somehow you can’t see the shifts from one attitude to the other: that’s how good Rabine is. And you’ll barely be able to take your eyes off Sykes, whose 30-something Lucy may be 10 years behind the developmental curve but who, when faced with new challenges, takes steps to catch up. Sykes brilliantly charts the growth of someone we care about but never feel sorry for. This world premiere is worth your attention.”

WHAT: “Naked Influence”
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany
WHEN: 7:30pm Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8pm Fridays; 3 & 8pm Saturdays; and 2pm Sundays through Sunday, February 14; also at 2pm on Wednesday (February 3)
HOW MUCH: $20-$50