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‘The Full Monty’ delights with tongue-in-cheek hijinks

Open Stage’s presentation of “The Full Monty,” playing now through Nov. 30 at the Lincoln Center, is a show jam-packed with D’s. No, not just that kind of D, pervert (this is a decent, family-friendly publication — or perhaps you haven’t read our piece on “how to properly hit a bong”). I was talking about depth, drama, some killer dance moves and, yes, as the title would suggest, the ultimate, behemoth, big daddy D itself, which does make an appearance.

Actors in a scene from “The Full Monty,” presented by OpenStage and playing at the Lincoln Center. (Pratyoosh Kashyap | The Collegian)

But the show is more than just schlongs and songs. As much as it capitalizes on the taboos of its star player, the nudity in the show is minimal and takes a backseat to the much soberer, more human story of a father trying to maintain custody of his son after losing his job at a steel mill. It’s a rare and surprisingly heartfelt foray into the world of blue-collar America and the struggles and insecurities of the modern working class.

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“This is a real thing that happened,” said director Kate Austin-Gröen. “This is, in fact, a historical play. The Bethlehem steel mills all closed in ‘83, the Buffalo ones in ‘84, which is roughly when this play is set, (causing the men who worked there to be laid off). It was a real thing that happened. … It’s not just ‘Oh, did you see when their G-strings came off? Wasn’t that awesome?’ There’s more to it than that.”

The show is more than just schlongs and songs … It’s a rare and surprisingly heartfelt foray into the world of blue-collar America and the struggles and insecurities of the modern working class.

While the characters’ solution to their problems in the story may be a bit extreme and sensational, the problems themselves are genuine and relatable. This isn’t just a farce that slaps together a collection of stereotypes and caricatures to be gawked at by its audience. It’s the story of real, struggling human beings facing real, human problems and trying to make sense out of real, human fears.

“Almost all of these characters have something to say (and) a point of view that is unique, and … they end up (somewhere) different from where they started,” said Austin-Gröen.

The main character, Jerry Lukowski, portrayed by actor Bas Meindertsma, is a prime example of this. After losing his job, Jerry is faced with the threat of having his son, Nathan, taken away from him. It’s out of this desperation, this very real and terrifying prospect of losing the one person who matters to him, that he turns to stripping for the sake of making ends meet.

Whereas another show might simply go for shocks and chuckles, making Jerry’s motivations for his decision into something comical or absurd, “Monty” brings the character down to earth, rooting his actions and choices in problems that carry actual weight and meaning in our world.

“(Audiences will) come for the nudity, and they’ll stay for the story.” -Kate Austin-Gröen, director

“We’re not just focusing on funny,” Meindertsma said. “(These people) are whole characters. … Even though Jerry’s a jerk, you can see that he has some good traits and that he tries really hard.” 

This isn’t to say that the show is some tragic, O’Neil sob-fest though. Despite its sobering undercurrent, the humor in the show still shines through in all its wacky, raunchy, full-frontal glory.

This is thanks to the extraordinary cast, each of whom embodies their eccentric 1980s working-class characters with a very distinct respect for who they are and what it is that matters to them. From the fellas’ high-haired, bedazzled, chain-smoking piano player Jeanette Burmeister, played by Louise F. Thornton; to the hapless and hunky Ethan Girard, played by Luke Stephens; to Charles Ray King Jr.’s achy breaky backup dancer, Noah “Horse” T. Simmons, whose gerontological gyrations had the audience floored during his performance of the song “Big Black Man,” this oddball ensemble had no shortage of side-splitting quips, gags and laughs.

“It wasn’t real until the G-string straps were coming off.” -Jack Krause, actor playing Dave Bukantinsky

As far as the nudity, it’s there, but it’s not overpowering. Indeed, save for the opening scene, which showcases a corporate-style strip tease from an office worker, no one removes so much as a jacket until the second act of the show. And even this is done in a very comical, self-aware manner, depleting its prurience. The show is not defined by the D. It’s just there to drum up the crowd a bit. As Austin-Gröen said, “(Audiences will) come for the nudity, and they’ll stay for the story.”

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But preparing for the little bit of birthday-suit-strutting that is featured in the show was still quite an adventure for the cast.

“It wasn’t real until the G-string straps were coming off,” said Jack Krause, who plays “fat bastard” Dave Bukantinsky in the show. In time though, he said, the self-awareness faded away as the actors, like their characters, became more comfortable in their own skin. “The worst thing that could happen is somebody could say ‘Oh look, it’s a penis.’”

“Which it is,” Austin-Gröen cut in.

And it’s the anticlimactic nature of this organ that the show seeks to highlight. After all, coming into a show called “The Full Monty” inevitably carries with it certain expectations: that you’ll see dudes and their bare dingles. But what the show proves to be is something much different and something more profound and more impactful than a mere tingaling. Thus, by the time the dingles finally make their grand entrance, it’s not as big a deal because the audience has learned that it’s the person behind the dingle that really matters.

“The play celebrates men finding who they are, but not in (a way that’s) rooted in machismo or toxic masculinity,” Krause said. “It allows people to feel good about themselves without having to bring others down. … It’s a conversation that doesn’t often happen.”

Scott Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus.

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