Despite the fact that the plot centers on six recently unemployed men deciding to put on a strip show following the closure of the steel mill in Buffalo, New York, The Full Monty is far more than a strip show. It’s a show about family, friends, work, depression, self-consciousness, and how the trials of each of these notions are overcome. Above all though, The Full Monty is about reversing gender stereotypes in a fearless way and seeing that – “hey, the world doesn’t fall apart when we stop sexualizing women and instead see them in positions of power” – or seeing that maybe men don’t need to be “masculine” in the traditional sense in order to have a sense of who they are. And, if that isn’t enough to grab you, the play is also riotously funny, as Director Adam Mazerolle-Kuss assured me last weekend.
The six lead actors – Brian Christensen, Jordan Ward, David Johnston, Gregory P. Caswell, James Toupin, and Orville Charles Cameron – completely won me over with their portrayals of average, down-on-their-luck men. I must say, it’s been quite a while since I enjoyed a musical that much. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been on the edge of my seat, rooting for the characters and cheering because I was genuinely happy for the characters and the actors at the end of the show. Their performance was incredibly genuine and authentic; I think one of the reasons for this was that the actors went through the same journey as the characters, from auditions to ‘going the ‘full monty’ in front of a live audience. Whether it was good acting or a genuine feeling, or both, I don’t know, but the tension in the air was thick as the performance approached the climax. It was also impressive to see how well the male actors portrayed the complete sense of worthlessness that the characters feel, allowing it to permeate their speech, mannerisms, posture, and gait. As audience members, we’re rarely given the chance to see such emotions displayed by males on stage or film and, consequently, to examine what this means not just for society, but for ourselves.
The ladies were just as much a part of the gender-role reversal, but in a much subtler way. The female cast, Ariana Whitlow, Karin Thomas, Joy Quilala, and Francie Goodwin-Davies in particular, did a great job of helping to build the world of Buffalo, New York, wherein the women are the ones with the jobs, money, and power and the men are just trying to keep up. The female characters were strong, assertive, confident: characters that we rarely see on stage or on screen, much less in real life. Everything from their vocal tone to their mannerisms spoke of a self-assurance that is all too rare. It made me think: what if the gender roles in history were reversed – as they are in this play – with the women working and the men trying to figure out what to do in their exhausting unemployment? Would this artistic choice have been noticeable?
For a show about putting on a strip show, I actually expected there to be a lot more stripping than there actually was. However, the tension and anxiety that permeated me, even as an audience member, is what makes this show different from going to something like “ladies night” at Union Hall. The tension that the actors create, either through the script (such as the near-constant reference to one of the character’s less than Greek God-like physique) or through the physical anxiety pouring out through the actors’ awkward dance rehearsals, creates a larger significance to the other plot twists. Will they get the money for the deposit for the venue? How will family matters affect each of the men and whether they decide to go through with the show? In the end, The Full Monty becomes about more than six beaten-down men taking off their clothes. It becomes elevated to hoping the men have the guts to do it, because if they do they’ll earn money – the money of “thousands of horny women.” Of course, it’s about more than the money; the audience knows bringing in money will allow the men to regain their sense of self.
The live orchestra accompanying the performance was a pleasant surprise as well. Having the orchestra in La Cite Francophone’s theatre made the space – and the production – seem more grand than perhaps it would have otherwise been. Kudos as well to Glenna Schowalter, the Propsmaster, and Morgan Smith, the Master Builder. As scene after scene was set up, I couldn’t believe the sheer number of props and temporary additions to the set (like a living room vignette) that the actors were bringing out. I can’t imagine the complexity of finding, creating, and managing all the moving pieces that are a part of this production. If I had to find one fault with the production, it was in the lighting fading to black during the scene changes. Not that I have any business behind a lighting board, but fading to semi-darkness instead would have helped maintain continuity and energy between the scenes, instead of effectively closing the curtain during every scene change.
(This post also appears on http://www.thesoundandnoise.com)