I STAND BEFORE YOU NAKED, Powertap Productions, at Organic Theater Company Greenhouse Lab Theater. A disgruntled high school teacher arranges a liaison with one of her students. A wife sees her husband cry after losing his job and knows their marriage is at an end. A young woman finds spiritual sanctuary in starvation. A drab spinster achieves notoriety by marrying an incarcerated serial killer. A wealthy dowager contributes to innumerable charities and dreams of gunning down their representatives. A recently murdered exotic dancer insists we shouldn't fret over her gruesome appearance.
These and the others on the roster of I Stand Before You Naked might be the usual 1990s lineup of "girls gone wrong," but these first-person character sketches were written by none other than Joyce Carol Oates and are performed by a team of Chicago's most underrecognized female talent. The result, far from being another quasi-feminist guilt gauntlet, is a grimly humorous, unflinchingly honest look at the people who lurk in the dark corners of our allegedly civilized society: "It's like Diane Arbus's photographs talking," observed one theatergoer. The veteran actresses so immerse themselves in their personas that even the most jaded spectator grows uneasy at the intimacy of their revelations.
One of the season's small gems, I Stand Before You Naked contains little visible violence, yet it explores the price of survival in a covertly brutal world. Its creators should collect some long-overdue applause.