Stripped, Circle Theatre. British playwright Stephen Clark, a disciple of Stephen Sondheim, has extensive experience writing books and lyrics for music theater. (He's best known for the lyrics in Cameron Macintosh's musical version of Martin Guerre.) This two-character play--a 90-minute meditation on contemporary relationships receiving its world premiere at Circle Theatre--would have made a startling chamber musical, and not just because it begins and ends with extended nude scenes. Clark is one of those rare playwrights with something new to say about an old topic--the mating game--and a new way to say it.

Stripped has a very musical structure: solo scenes featuring the two protagonists, a man and woman, alone in their rooms reflecting on their lives alternate with two-person scenes that show the evolution of their relationship. To heighten the contrast between public and private, Clark has written all the monologues in rhymed verse and all the duets in prose.

The setup may sound artificial, but in the hands of a subtle director like Lynn Ann Bernatowicz and two supple actors like Jason Bradley and Meghan Maureen McDonough, even Clark's occasional lapses into doggerel feel natural. And those times when he rips away the layer of pretense and reveals the narcissism, hurt, and loneliness beneath our polite smiles soar into the stratosphere.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Kolack.

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