Venue: Assembly Roxy
‘Two girls escape California to work at a strip club in the Alaskan wilderness. An adventure that begins in innocence lures them into a 10-year career testing the limits of friendship and the will to survive. Told with pole dancing and over a dozen characters who danced in and frequented the clubs, Naked in Alaska is a fearless look at the objects we make of ourselves to fit in and the buried truths we must face for a chance of coming home.’
As a rule of thumb, anything beginning with Oasis’ Wonderwall will stand it in good favour with me. Naked in Alaska continues the tradition.
The solo drama charts the story of a 21-year-old, now sober, evicted young woman who embarks on a career in the pole-dancing business, from Tijuana to Alaska. From the dizzying highs to the devastating lows (and back again), Valerie Hager gives a candid exploration of the empowerment her profession brings and impact it has on the relationships in her life.
Hager masterfully plays an assortment of wildly different characters who frequented the clubs and worked there. While it is “based on a true story,” I’m embarrassed to admit it did not even occur to me that the lead performer was also the protagonist of the tale. It made for a delightful if slightly delayed, surprise to learn that Hager’s acting, while terrific, was also a concurrent insight into how she as the protagonist understood, remembered, and felt about these events. Such an opportunity for an audience to glean real meaning from a performance is rare.
Indeed, the writing is as supercharged as its performer. For all the novelty of an actress playing and oscillating between more than a dozen parts, Hager has written a story that is taut and succinct and one which never feels jagged or unable to keep up with her own energy. There is a sincere investment in the story, one which makes the highs headier and the lows more sympathetic.
I know I will not be able to capture the sheer joie de vivre Hager brings. Even at its bleakest, Hager engines out an agility, speed and enthusiasm across the entire hour. Her presence is magnetic and if there was a real ensemble cast there is no doubt she would be the standout actor.
Sound and visuals are cleverly used to pinpoint time and location. The production is fun, and zany, without ever becoming a distraction and establishes the stages of the story nicely. The plot, it mixes youthful glee, hardship and cruelty perfectly, most likely because it is indeed true tale. (Oscar Wilde’s “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life” comes to mind.) This was a journey made to be performed, but it excels in telling it in an innovative way. The risk is palpable and a few moments are required to get accustomed to the style, but it is never awkward or impractical.
Trying to write a review of Naked in Alaska makes me feel guilty. Like everything the truth is in the meaning of the journey, and Hager has told hers with an unabashed freshness that delights and satisfies. Absolutely go and see it.