Zoetic Stage opened its world premiere production of Christopher Demos-Brown’s Stripped at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on November 5, 2015.
Christopher Demos-Brown, author of the award-winning plays Fear Up Harsh and Captiva, explores new territory in the battle between a mother's rights and the American legal system. Stripped is the story of Masha, an immigrant, an exotic dancer, and a mother. Devastated when the State takes custody of her daughter, Masha must struggle against all odds to reunite her family. Stripped is a moving, irreverent, portrait of one woman's quest for true freedom.
Stuart Meltzer directed a cast that featured Lindsey Corey, Margot Moreland, Makeba Pace, Chaz Mean, Matt Stabile and Ava-Riley Mills
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Christopher Demos-Brown’s new play Stripped is an absorbing examination of the complexities, the grays, in a child custody battle that is anything but black and white. And in its Zoetic Stage world premiere at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, the production also vividly illustrates how the collaborative work and myriad choices of theater artists bring a playwright’s vision to colorful life.
The award-winning Demos-Brown is a lawyer as well as a gifted dramatist, and the knowledge he has gained from pro bono work in child custody cases has given Stripped a harrowing authenticity. The script also demonstrates his skill at crafting character-revealing dialogue and mixing drama with tension-softening humor.
Stripped plays out in many unexpected ways. On paper, Masha reads as honest but tough, and her choice of profession (she also admits to prostitution with some of the strip club patrons) doesn’t make her a terribly sympathetic character. But in a breakthrough performance, Corey is exactly that. Lithe and impressively athletic, she works the stripper pole and the space around it while delivering stream-of-consciousness monologues that underscore her take-no-prisoners determination. Corey also blends the softness and humor that Demos-Brown supplies into her performance, so that her work is multi-layered and impressively rich.
Making her Zoetic debut, Pace delivers intense, impassioned work as a woman determined to speak truth to anyone who would compromise a child’s future. As Zack, Stabile is an appealing ne’er-do-well, a guy whose go-to behavior means taking the easy way out — even if that way is betrayal.
In addition their warm portrayals of the foster parents, Moreland and Mena respectively play the family court judge deciding Raisa’s case and the attorney appointed to represent Masha. Moreland does solid work in both roles... As foster dad Nicholas, Mena is absorbing and, at the right moment, intense. As Masha’s lawyer, he looks, sounds and moves in a completely different way, and he’s understatedly amusing…
Dialogue involving the girl’s curiosity about a word Nicholas utters without thinking could have been squirm-inducing; instead, Miles, Mena and Moreland skillfully make the scene one that many a tween parent will find familiar.
New play work is as challenging as it is rewarding, and Zoetic’s Stripped might have been even stronger out of the gate with some additional rehearsal time. That said, for the artists and the audience, having a smart, moving new Demos-Brown play at the Arsht is something to celebrate.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
…in Christopher Demos-Brown’s shattering world premiere Stripped at Zoetic Stage, the audience faces a… complex dilemma with no villains and no unalloyed winners. At its center is an immigrant who pole dances in a strip club (among other entrepreneurial side-activities) solely to ensure her child’s future. Suddenly, state officials want to strip her of her beloved daughter and give her to a well-heeled loving foster family.
Enhanced by Stuart Meltzer’s seamless direction of an A-list cast and an assured career-best performance by Lindsey Corey, local playwright Demos-Brown has rocketed his game once again to an even higher level of craft, but this time with a significantly more profound emotional quotient.
This is the third Demos-Brown world premiere that Meltzer has directed and they seem a seamless team in sync. Meltzer is not a showy look-at-me type. But over time, his style can be spotted, no more so than here. Among his virtues are pacing: the rat-a-tat banter of people in a relationship who know each other’s tropes; the take-a-breath pauses when situations hit a crucial crossroads. He also has a skill for infusing drama with humorous moments…
But we’ve been putting it off long enough. Lindsey Corey. This has been quite a season for veteran local actors finally getting the role they deserved years ago, such as Shane Tanner in Big Fish. And finally, Corey gets her shot. Corey, known before her recent marriage as Lindsey Forgey, has always been admired for her skills with offbeat comic… But Corey’s Masha, while often funny, is a different animal. She exudes a whip-smart intelligence, a fierce determination, a breathtaking selflessness and a calcified cynicism as a long-justified defense mechanism against a society in which the rules are always changing. Corey makes all these facets completely believable. But blessed with an open-hearted face, she also elicits an audience’s sympathy, loyalty and even admiration.
The cast is comprised of some of the best talents in the state, each given a meaty part or parts to work with. Makeba Pace… is the fiery lawyer trying to wrest the child from what she perceives to be a downright dangerous environment – because she knows abuse from personal experience.
Moreland (who doubles as a judge) and Mena are fine as a couple with a shared history, and Mena, who was so fine in Betrayal last season, doubles as the scruffy lawyer for Masha who develops an razor-sharp cross-examination during the court scene. Stabile is note perfect in his depiction of someone Masha accurately sizes up as a loser. Ms. Miles captures the promise of a hyper-smart youth in her later scenes.
…Zoetic has emerged alongside New Theatre as one of the premier companies premiering new work. Like Florida Stage before it, Zoetic is building a loyal audience who really knows little or nothing about the specifics of what exactly they are going to see on any given weekend; all they know is that the Zoetic brand is a kind of guarantee of a certain level of quality and a type of show they are likely to enjoy.
Roger Martin reviewed for Miami ArtZine:
Demos-Brown tells his story so imaginatively, surprise after surprise, that every scene is a challenge to the veteran cast. And they respond with a realism that surges far past the ordinary.
Lindsey Corey is extraordinary as Masha, the divorced mail order bride, pole dancer/prostitute, who opens the show with an erotically writhing display on the center stage stripper's pole. Masha is the mother of a baby girl and her love, desperation and frustration is captured brilliantly by Corey. Her Russian accented broken English is a delight, her monologues things of the saddest beauty.
Matt Stabile… is impressively grounded as the losing small time criminal who thinks only of himself.
Dual roles go to Margot Moreland as a judge and as Emma, the woman who adopts Masha's daughter, and to Chaz Mena as Nicholas, Emma's husband and as Masha's lawyer. Both these actors do everything right. Always.
Erica Peebles, the child services attorney is played by Makeba Pace who nails the outrage of finding children who are being abused. Her frustration is frightening when dealing with both Masha and the Judge.
Stuart Meltzer not only directed a fast ninety minutes, he also designed the intriguing sound. An impressive set from Michael McClain with its overbearing Lady Justice, marble government walls, stripper's poles. Beautifully lighted by Rebecca Montero. Estela Vanrcovich designed the very appropriate costumes.
Imagination and talent thrive at Zoetic and never more so than in Christopher Demos-Brown's Stripped.