Stripped-down theater

Which Central Florida venue got the most national attention this past week? Not the behemoth theme park Islands of Adventure, which officially opened its gates, but little Club Juana, a "gentlemen's club" at the corner of State Road 436 and Highway 17-92 in Casselberry.

On Friday, May 28, Club Juana was the location of the play "Les Femmes Fatales," whose three female cast members performed off and on in the nude during the 45-minute revue. Artistic event? Sure. A political act? That too, since the play was a direct challenge to Seminole County's anti-nudity ordinance passed last November.

The play included the "toil and trouble" witches' scene from "Macbeth," an adaptation of Marquis de Sade's writing and several short pieces written by Morris Sullivan, who also directed the play. This imaginative way of challenging the anti-nudity law -- which mandates that in public places a specific amount of a woman's buttocks and breasts must be covered -- generated reports from National Public Radio, the Associated Press and Fox-TV affiliates across the nation.

The law's vague exemption for "bona fide performances" was at stake. "We're really trying to poke fun at this ordinance," said Steve Mason, the club's attorney, who prior to the performance kept the Seminole County Sheriff's Department fully informed about the content of the play.

The script's objective, explained writer/director Sullivan the day before the performance, was "to put a bunch of different elements in so the court would have to say, 'This is bona fide `art`, this is not.'" To that end, "Sorta the whole point of doing this is to get arrested," he said.

That didn't happen -- at least not yet. The Seminole County Sheriff's Department sent an officer wearing a "crime scene unit" jacket to videotape the performance (as well as, it seemed, several of the women dancing prior to the play's start). That tape got turned over to the state attorney's office, which will decide whether charges will be filed.

What they caught on tape was three women, Scarlett, Rae and Christy, who often stumbled over their lines but acted their parts with a combination of earnestness and outright fun. The audience managed at times to show a certain amount of respect -- for example, shushing those rude enough to talk too loudly -- while also hooting enthusiastically at some of the more salacious lines. At one point a man, clearly a budding director, offered some stage advice: "Shake it around!" he yelled. During a section praising the beauty of women's bodies, another audience member, too overcome to care about getting his metaphor straight, called out, "You're singing to the choir!" The three women stopped and smiled sweetly at the audience's interruptions -- perhaps not strictly professional behavior in the acting world, but right on cue for the spirit of this performance, which was billed on the club's marquee as "The play you've been waiting for."

About 350 people showed up for the play, significantly more than on a regular Friday night, according to club owner Mike Pinter. The media attention was "pretty incredible," says Pinter; he laughs that one of the club's managers heard a radio news story about "putting on Shakespeare in Club Juana" while sitting in a restaurant in Los Angeles.

Pinter has no idea if the state attorney has a timetable for deciding to file charges. "You don't know what they're going to do," he says. "It'll probably come when I least expect it." In the meantime, Club Juana will continue to stage "Les Femmes Fatales," but there are no confirmed dates at this time. "We need to critique it for sound and such," says Pinter, the mindful producer.