Nik Doner presented his performance of a genre I would call comedy-memoir to a packed Black Box Theatre crowd this Saturday. Directed by Hannah Victoria Frankin with Hannah Mootz and Hannah Ruwe as exotic dancers to add true-to-lifeness. This show also featured video projection of some of Nik’s home movies and a stretch of a car crash video game as he narrated one particular drunken driving experience.
Part of the charms of attending performance entertainment like Cuddling with Strippers is the safe peek it offers into worlds alien to my own. Let’s begin with the title. A search revealed that cuddling with strippers is a real phenom, with the requisite websites and forum to give it modern legitimacy. Legitimacy, though rhyming with intimacy, are not at all the same. Strip clubs are an type of immersive amusement experience which reverses the typical experience of theater. Samuel Coleridge suggested we create and enjoy art through our “willing suspension of disbelief”—strip clubs traffic in the willing ramping up of belief.
Nik carries us with him into this mirror world where he desperately wanted to believe. Weaving through his comic re-enactment of many traumatic events in his life are his visits to strip clubs. For what? Nik is never clear, one guesses a “good time” and the fantasy that one of the lovely dancers would fancy him.
One of Nik’s traumatic events was being told by doctors he has a small something in his one of his testicles which would need to be removed. Not the small something, the whole testicle. Demonstrating why Nature has the wisdom to duplicate organs when it can: two eyes, two ears, two testicles. His visit to the examining room where he reproduces the experience of having to drop his pants and submit to an ultrasound scan while the technician makes small talk was one of the funnier moments of the show. Perhaps because … well, no, we all haven’t been there. While this is happening the two dancing Hannahs were mimicking the action. They danced in high heels with black bikinis and a Caucasian flesh-tone top.
The scenes at the strip clubs are loud. When at a club after his operation he wants to believe the stripper really connects with him. As a video projection of a stripper walking around in street clothes and moving about her apartment provides the backdrop, Nik tells us her blue eyes were directed at him. He describes her hair and her body, and then when she’s comes over after giving another patron a lap dance on his thigh, which is “by the rules” she takes Nik to a sofa and does a full-on grind with him which is not by the rules and risks her job. Is this real, or is this commerce? Nik’s not sure. She can’t give him her number, rules again, but can accept his. He give it to her and three days later “like she was reading a dating etiquette book,” Nik says, she calls. He goes to her place and is entranced by her green eyes once again. Wait, Nik, wonders, what was the color of her eyes?
As one replays scenes in hopes of recapturing more memories, the entire show parallels Nik’s story of continual restarting. Near the end of the hour he visits another club. This time the stripper is given a backstory over the loud speaker: mother of two children, breaking up with her boyfriend, who is sitting in the corner of the club, and she hates her job. He feels for her, she deserves better than this, he thinks. And gives her his number. She calls right away. She gives him a view of her real life, the one with an apartment 90 minutes from the club. The one with two young children. She is very real to him now, not a stripper to carry his projection of desire. Nik doesn’t know quite what to do, which is also the stuff of real life.
* What is a Fringe Festival? There’s plenty of dramatic action happening during this year’s Fringe Festival: 34 shows in 5 venues running from March 23 to April 1. Read Drama in the Hood’s preview and visit the fringe’s website for more details. Fringe theater festivals trace their ancestry to 1947 and Edinburgh, Scotland. That year, eight theater troupes who were not selected into the official first Edinburgh International Festival organized their own performances. According to Wikipedia, “Robert Kemp, a Scottish journalist and playwright, described the situation, ‘Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before … I am afraid some of us are not going to be at home during the evenings!’”
Fringe festivals have become one of the most accessible institutions in the world and the one in Edinburgh is the planet’s largest arts festival. Festival organizers welcome any and all performers to submit applications for inclusion. A lottery is held to pick the shows. Applicants pay minimum fees to to cover the festival’s overhead and advertising. All acts get about the same number of performances and get to keep all box office income.
Expect brief shows (from 45 to 60 minutes), minimum sets so shows can setup and break down fast, and extreme originality. Get out there and support fringe theater!
Rating: “M” for MATURE recommended for ages 18+
Cuddling with Strippers: I Think this All Happened, created and performed By Nik Doner. Directed by Hannah Victoria Franklin. Produced by White Rabbits. 2017 Fringe Festival (A Program of Theatre of Puget Sound). Center House Theatre Black Box, Seattle Center, 1st Floor, 305 Harrison St. Tickets: seattlefringefestival.org Showtimes: 3/25 7:45 pm, 3/29 8 pm, 3/31 10 pm, & last show—4/1 9:45 pm.