When is theater too shocking?

Last Spring, I spent a week following a burlesque dancer. I’m not trying to be racy; it was for a profile I was writing. I first met Miss Mina at Café Crema in Harvard Square and then I watched her in rehearsals and finally, because I had a deadline, I needed to see her on stage. Her only show that fit my schedule, “Naked Ladies Reading,” was something that originated in Chicago and Mina’s troupe, Boston Babydolls, was debuting it at the Oberon. In our first interview, Miss Mina had said, “BostonBabydolls don’t usually get naked. That would make them strippers. BostonBabydolls are burlesque dancers and they practice the art of the strip-tease.” Semantics. Clearly, she was making an exception this time.

So, I lined up at 10 p.m., outside the Oberon, feeling a tad uneasy. It was a bunch of middle-aged flashers in their overcoats and me. (Or at least my anxious mind perceived them as such.) I disappeared into the back of the room trying to be as invisible as possible and pulled out my notebook. The lights dimmed and the spotlights went on six women dressed in various interpretations of nightwear–silk robes and kimonos dominated—but most also wore jewel-encrusted stilettos and chandelier earrings. They were reclining on red velvet coaches in their bordello. One by one they each glided, strolled, or even plodded up to the microphone, dropped their robes, and started reading. First, I didn’t hear a thing because I was so distracted by body shapes, piercing locales, and degrees of wax jobs.  After I caught my breath again, I settled in to be entertained. What I quickly realized was that the nakedness was irrelevant. It was just “Holy Sh*t theater.” What mattered was if the woman was an engaging reader. And most of them weren’t. After about 20 minutes I realized this “Holy Sh*t theater” had lapsed into “What the F*&#? theater.” I walked out.

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