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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Naked Influence"

“Naked Influence,” a play being given its world premiere by Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, is one of those works that might be unfairly be overlooked or even dismissed by the public.  

That’s because “Naked Influence” doesn't have the dramatic sizzle that turns on an audience.  Instead, it’s doesn’t have the dramatic sizzle that turns on an audience Instead it’s a provocative play that lacks manufactured highs and lows. Although the story and the presentation maintain the viewers’ attention, it lacks a compelling through-line to keep you involved with the plight of the central character.  It’s the kind of work that generates outrage from an unfair situation without elevating the proceedings to either tragedy or, at least powerful drama.

This is not to say the two hour play is without its satisfactions. “Naked Influence” is about the struggle of Lucy, a young woman whose intimidating ability in her chosen profession perches her above her competition. In her work environment she rules, but outside that sphere she is virtually powerless.  She leads an almost anonymous life -  a private person comfortable with emotional reclusivness – until she unwittingly falls in love outside of work.   

Her need for privacy is acerbated by her choice of working in the shadows of polite society. A stripper at an upscale Gentleman’s Club in Washington, DC., few people in her life know how she earns her substantial income.   In spite of her raw intelligence and desire to advance her life, her upward mobility is hindered by the image with which her profession taints her.

Lucy’s good at her job and enjoys enticing powerful clients, while never crossing over to intimacy with the men who desire her.  Her aspirations to continue her academic education spur on her career which generously pays the bills.  At the dance club she uses only the name “Red” to maintain distance and suppress familiarity.  Feeling safe, she teases and carefully encourages clients to keep them coming back.   Unfortunately, real gentlemen do not frequent Gentlemen’s Clubs, and when Lucy’s guard is uncharacteristically down, a client assaults her in a life-changing, brutal event.  She learns sexual fantasy is not just a harmless pastime.  It can stimulate ugly violence, deceit and cruel disillusionment. “Naked Influence” is a work that has you thinking of many social and moral inequities that exist in our society.    It might even be considered a work with a feminist slant, but thankfully playwright Suzanne Bradbeer is content to let the audience come to their own conclusions without preaching or militancy. This restraint gives the play balance as Lucy clearly takes responsibility for all her choices – none of which seem wrong.   As performed convincingly and endearingly by Amanda Sykes, Lucy seems an independent and confident individual.  It’s rather pathetic to discover this strong woman is operating under a delusion fostered by society.

The play does have its flaws.  The narrative seems listless with some first act scenes seemingly included for purposes other than driving the story. The work would be helped by the building of tension and even a bit of foreshadowing in the rather passive first act. And because Lucy lives life as cypher, it is difficult for the audience to feel they really know her

However, director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill trusts both her playwright and the story she wants to tell and avoids exploiting moments or situations just for artificial drama.

The cast supports the low-key approach by creating simple, honest uncomplicated characters in whom we believe. The entire cast is near-perfect, with special notice going to Robert Newman who creates a villain who represents the damage that can happen when power gets in the wrong hands.  Rather than portraying the sleazy individual as a stereotypical woman-hating male, Newman plays him as a narcissistic individual lacking a moral compass.  Indeed there are times Dennis is almost charming.

Lucy’s boyfriend, Tommy, played by Andy Lucien, capably winds his way into Lucy’s trust and brings the audience right along with him.  Brenny Rabine and Yvonne Perry, who play Lucy’s sister and the club manager respectively, illuminate the nuances and mysteries of Lucy’s private life     

The cast is so good even the small roles are impressive.  The pole dancers played by Julia Franklin and Nazli Sarpkaya contribute more than attractive ambiance- setting characters. Their onstage moments signal the moods of boredom, enjoyment and irritation of those who work in the club.   

“Naked Influence” is little more a sketch of a segment of society, but within its limited scope there is much to think about and discuss.

“Naked Influence” plays through February 14, for tickets and schedule 445-SHOW

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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