Exotic dancers and sex-trade workers are the backdrop for Girl Gone, a murder mystery that ultimately explores the psychology of identity. Jacquelyn Reingold's script is a collage of fast-moving scenes and monologues, focusing on Tish (Kimberly C. Mason), whose life comes unglued when fellow dancer and best friend Jean (Margeau Steinau) is brutally murdered. This NonProphet Theater Company production is a "mature audiences only" play that moves beyond partial nudity and sex scenes to examine the guts of sexual relationships and their potentially dangerous outcomes.
The set, designed by Dan Steinau, allows the action to move easily from the FoXXXy Lady to a smoky jazz club to various apartments and street locations. Puzzle pieces are painted on the floor, reflecting a nightmare Tish relates to the audience about receiving puzzles that are impossible to put together. The central piece of the puzzle in Girl Gone is the relationship between Jean and Tish, shown in flashback scenes and imagined conversations. Steinau imbues Jean with an intense passion for life and a clear desire to control Tish, but it's never quite clear why Tish is so attracted to Jean or why her life falls apart so completely when Jean is murdered. Mason captures Tish's despair but seems trapped in that emotion for most of the play, never revealing how her friendship with Jean made her feel more sure of herself.
Kiné Brown, Paula Dean and Leah Schumacher provide more than just eye candy as fellow dancers. Brown is Carla, the politically savvy artist, protesting laws against nipple coverage in New Jersey and cursing "feminists" who try to label her as a victim. Dean is Roxanne, an acrobatic powerhouse who simply enjoys the dancing, and Schumacher provides comic relief as Baby June, a musical-theater wannabe whose favorite musical is Gypsy. Jared Nell plays a hustler who gives Tish sound advice, while B. Weller plays her hapless boyfriend Danny. Weller is sympathetic, showing genuine concern for Tish's downward-spiraling psyche, and hilarious as he performs an erotic dance.
As Bobby, Jean's saxophone-playing boyfriend, Robert Mitchell gives Girl's most compelling performance. Convinced that Bobby is the one who killed Jean, Tish decides to seduce him, thinking she can get him to confess to the murder. But Bobby is not easily hustled, and their initial flirtatious scenes give way to a finale as raw as a ripped-off scab. Sexual demands and dangerous desire lead Bobby to a heart-tearing confession, but not the one Tish was hoping for. The final piece of the puzzle never does drop into place: Though the night of the murder comes more clearly into focus, the play's final image is bewildering.
Scene transitions are fluid and easily followed, thanks to topnotch work by lighting designer Jim Dolan and sound designer Dave Toretta. Director Christopher Limber brings together the disparate pieces stylishly, clearly delineating the dream and memory sequences from reality. Limber also wisely inserts an intermission into Reingold's script, giving the audience a chance to digest the complex information and take a break from the intense emotions. The second half of the evening moves more easily than the first, as Tish has fewer redundant monologues and the relationship between Bobby and Tish heats up.
It's hard to say what Girl Gone is really about. On one hand, its mixture of crime, obsessive behavior, dangerous friendships and voracious appetites highlights the dark side of the human psyche, critiquing our need for power and control. On the other hand, the humorous aspects of the show suggest hope and strength that can overcome the shadowlands. It's a puzzling stew of reality and a powerful final show in the NonProphet Theater Company's first season of plays. Known for their productions of adult sketch-comedy shows like The Militant Propaganda Bingo Machine, the NonProphets have demonstrated that they can handle more than humor.