A star-spangled celebration

For the past few months the American flag has been even more visible than Britney Spears. The terrible events of last fall put us in a patriotic lather that saw the stars and stripes waving from every flag pole and car antenna in town. We suddenly were mindful of our freedom and determined to celebrate it at every possible turn.

Then we remembered there was a fascinating way locally to celebrate some of our more controversial and enjoyable freedoms, one that is also an exotic and brilliant scheme to get students interested in Shakespeare. Patriotism and adult education have been meeting under the most peculiar of roofs for quite some time in the surprising and overlooked location of Club Juana.

It was accidental, but the greatest discoveries always are. Some time ago, an ordinance was approved in Seminole County that said exotic dancers couldn't appear totally nude, but rather had to wear pasties and G-strings, which slightly diluted the meaning of the term "strip club."

But prudery proved no match for wits and tits. The wits belonged to club owner Michael Pinter, attorney Steve Mason and playwright Morris Sullivan. Pinter already owned the stage; Mason pointed out the loophole in the ordinance that allowed for nudity in "legitimate" theatrical productions; Sullivan then combined a few lines from "Macbeth" with a few of his own to help make Club Juana's offerings exactly that: legitimate theater.

The performers themselves completed the equation, as witnessed a couple of weeks ago when we decided it finally was time to check out the "Macbeth" scenes and Sullivan's original contributions, which comment on the club's struggle to retain the civil right of on-the-job nakidity. It's not exactly Ghandi, but then, these girls look a lot better than a guru in a diaper.

As theatrical venues go, Club Juana is a nice one, and, to our surprise, attracts a largely youthful audience, albeit one in which the men outnumber the women like they do in Alaska. Another difference was that not every theater offers alcohol before, during and after performances. After eleventeenhundred drinks, the ladies could have burped and I'd have thought it was Mostly Mozart.

Broadway could also take a cue from Club Juana in that you rarely get to go to a theater that offers the pre-show treat of (nearly) naked ladies doing serpentine dances around lit poles, displaying athletic talents that make Nancy Kerrigan seem like Tiny Tim. One, dressed in a school-girlish outfit, even did acrobatics from a brass bar suspended from the ceiling. Anyone who thinks there's no skill in this should get off her stuffed crust and try it. Most of us probably wouldn't get any tips except, "Practice!"

This certainly was theatrical. But then the Shakespeare scenes got underway. First up, three dancers played the witches from "Macbeth." In most productions the witches are depicted as wrinkled old bags who look like something you'd pull out of a clogged drain. The Club Juitches, who were wearing pointy black hats and little else, looked like they walked out of Playboy. Indeed, their production values were much higher than your typical old bag's would be. Thank you, poetic license.

The acting wasn't spectacular. Some lines were obscured and the young ladies seemed nervous about delivering them, which is kind of funny since they weren't shy about dancing with their respective poles, which would be more intimidating for most of us than being asked to recite a few words. People who look like this should be able to do anything with confidence. In time, I'm sure, they all will be able to deliver their lines with the kind of poise you have when you're the only one in the room with a gun. For now, though, there are three important points to remember:

  • Shakespeare is tough. I've never understood every word of a Shakespeare play even when it's delivered in a conventional manner, so, so what?

  • These girls are primarily dancers, not actresses. If someone told me that in order to keep my job I had to do Ophelia's mad scene once a week, I wouldn't pick up any Tonys, either.

  • People think Andie McDowell can act and have given her parts in major motion pictures. So it must be a relative thing.

Also, Shakespeare was supposed to be a big genius, but even he didn't think, "How about, between scenes, we get the actresses to dance nude?" which is exactly what these girls did, going back to the same gyrations they were doing before the play began and providing a delightful break in the action.

The dancing didn't last too long, however, as there was another part of the show to do, one they seemed to have a little more fun with: the dramatization of their struggles over this goofy local imbroglio. Here they got to say lines that were a little easier than Ye Olde Englishe, lines like, "Beauty is God's handwriting," and "Looking at a nipple is no different than looking at a nose. It can't hurt you, you, you or you!" and they've got a pointy point there. Beauty, like freedom and other gifts, should be celebrated. With everything else Americans are facing these days, a few pretty girls taking it off at a bar should be cause for delight, not derision. We've spent the past few months bombing the beards off a regime that liked to cover up women like corpses. How nice it is, in comparison, to see them proudly dancing around like, well, like free and beautiful girls.

The whole thing wrapped up to the tune of Jimmy Hendrix' "The Star Spangled Banner" and was right on par with the current mood of patriotism. I'm sure a lot of people felt like raising a flag, or whatever else came in handy. I stumbled away from my night out at the theater, culturally enriched and impressed over the way this ordinance had spurred on such creativity. We're glad to know that in the end, the attempt to ban and prohibit was much ado about nothing.

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