Why are so many female characters prostitutes? Because behind the salacious subject matter in these characters' lives lies a world of complicated emotions arising from their basic degradation. So, too, is this true of stripper characters. Jennifer Slack-Eaton chronicles some of the lower depths in the life of an exotic dancer in her play Men Eat Mars Bars While Touching Their Penis, directed by Jared Culverhouse of Working Man's Clothes Productions. As is to be expected from Working Man's Clothes, a company with a legacy of edgy, challenging productions full of depth, Mars Bars has plenty to say. The focus is on Ginger (a world-weary Darcie Champagne, perfect in the role), who delivers about a dozen monologues in front of her fellow dancers: Chanel (Victoria Cengia), Roxie (Anne Dyas), Sadie (Amanda Hamilton), and Karma (Katryn Kinser). Together, they recreate some of their worst encounters and most demanding customers.
Truth to tell, none of these vignettes are too revelatory: we've seen and heard a lot about how disgusting this world can be, in various works of film and theater. But what may not be fresh about Mars Bars remains remarkably full, and the synergy of Culverhouse, Slack-Eaton, and, most especially, Champagne creates one harrowing vignette after another. Ginger and company relive their tryouts, their first times dancing, and the customers who lied to them or had particularly quirky fetishes. It is an impressive hat trick. Without ever seeing any of these male characters, the audience has no trouble picturing every last one of them.
Sometimes, though, other cast members portray these males, even if it's just a one-liner, and the supporting actresses' work provides a great deal of dimension as well as humor, particularly from Hamilton. I was also struck by Dyas, who demonstrated a well-defined grasp of nuance in her myriad small parts. With luck, Working Man's Clothes will have a larger role for her in its next production.
Champagne is unafraid to bare all—certainly a lot physically, but even more emotionally, stripping off layer upon layer as Slack-Eaton's scenes get progressively more dramatic and visceral. One of her best moments comes when Champagne wonders aloud what her father thinks of her and her career choice. A more predictable moment comes when Champagne questions whether she really is a whore, a word frequently bandied about here. This is a fairly predictable choice, seemingly almost requisite on Slack-Eaton's part, given the subject matter. But Champagne brings real pathos to her line delivery.
Mars Bars gets a lot of mileage out of its location: Under St. Marks, a small, intimate underground theater in the heart of the East Village, is a perfect choice of venue. It's small enough to seem as though a strip show could actually take place there, and with no escape (in fact, before the show starts, Ginger's stripper cohorts cavort among the audience). Culverhouse really does implicate the audience's members as though they were actual customers, which adds a lot to the show's atmosphere.
Working Man's Clothes has featured an eclectic array of shows in its seasons, with one uniting concept: it shows the less glamorous paths people sometimes travel in life and is unafraid to explore the consequences of these decisions. Mars may be part of the title, but this show and its characters are firmly grounded on planet Earth.