STEP INTO COHO PRODUCTIONS' Live Girls and you're stepping into a strippers' dressing room—really an unraised stage with a row of lockers and two long tables littered with makeup and lingerie. Did you think you'd see sexed-up tramps lubricating their thighs with extra-virgin olive oil? Hardcore addicts shooting up before a show? Single moms hitting the books between sets? Of course you didn't, which is why Natalie Rose's voyeuristic play falls short as an exposé or a lesson, but gets by on some soapy entertainment.
The titular girls, seven in all, run the gamut of young, old, hyper, mellow, highly sexed, virginal (at heart), sweet, and tough. Fantasy, played by a captivatingly cranky Meegan Anslee, wants out of the club (Bare Essentials), while reluctantly pert cocktail waitress Juli (Ileana Herrin) is predictably getting sucked in. Her awkward induction to the life, complete with butt-clapping training, is the engine of the first act. Ass-trainer Divinity, played by exotic dancer/performance artist Rocket in her debut to this kind of stage, is a nice cat to Juli's mouse. (Rocket sticks out as the only really "experienced" member of the cast.)
Live Girls saddles itself with one too many characters early on, and instead of really digging into them during the second act, just adds one more. After some fast-forwarded soul barings and poorly executed crises (a slap, an overdose), the ending is downright abrupt.
Neither a glamorous ode nor a pitying harp, Live Girls commits itself to the middling reality of exotic dancer-dom. Sure, some of the performers have drug problems, abusive boyfriends, and deadbeat baby daddies (and within minutes of curtain, we know who they are). But they're still competitive, proud of a job well done, and as caught by the empowerment/stigma catch-22 of the profession as their liberal critics.
As a friend pointed out, there is one group of people who might actually be surprised by strippers' complexity—those who regularly pay them to get naked. But when I curiously scanned the eyes of the men in the crowd during one of the topless scenes, I saw mostly averted faces—those men were not here. As the older gentleman exiting CoHo's Nob Hill theater before me put it, "All that play did was make me worry about my daughters."