ALBANY, N.Y. >> There is a moment, roughly midway through "Naked Influence," when this misguided, muddled exercise by Suzanne Bradbeer holds out the promise of actually becoming a play — and a witty and engaging one at that.
A thirtysomething woman named Sammie (Brenny Rabine) is explaining to her older sister, Lucy (Amanda Sykes) how she met her husband, Sean They were at a protest rally of "old-time Republicans" who were railing against the Tea Party. Sammie spotted Sean carrying a sign with a picture of Abraham Lincoln, a tear draining from one eye and the caption "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." Love at first sight.
It's not only that the wildly funny image is a sharp, if also sad, commentary on what's happened to the G.O.P., it's the fresh expression of a smart, thoughtful voice that is largely silent for far too much of this play's better-than-two-hour running time.
In all fairness, there are one or two other moments that come enticingly close to jump-starting this dreary, shopworn, arbitrarily plotted, thematically burdened piece — Sykes' touching, affecting, softly rendered delivery of a speech in which Lucy explains what dancing in a strip club means to her and why she takes pride in her work; and scenes, particularly at the end, between Lucy and a black rookie cop named Tommy, beautifully and authentically played by Andy Lucien, who brings out not only the best, most genuine side of Lucy but also Sykes, whose otherwise effortful performance bears the marks of an actress in search of a character. But these moments are not enough to carry an all-too-familiar play that is both too much and not enough.
"Naked Influence" centers on Lucy, a thirtysomething exotic dancer known as Red to her "clients" at the Washington, D.C. gentleman's club at which she works. She is extremely good at what she does and takes pride in her work. She also makes good money but she wants more out of life, chiefly a college degree and the empowerment and self-respect, not to mention the respect of others, that comes with it. She wants to be seen for who she is rather than judged by her line of work. She has, on more than one occasion, left the club, only to return. Now, when she is accepted by George Washington University, she seizes the opportunity and quits her job against the advice of her best friend, Angie (a credible Yvonne Perry in a cliché character), the club's hard-bitten, cynical manager and chief bartender, who also is protective of Lucy/Red.
Lucy's personal life is untidy, at best. She is trying to repair the break in her relationship with Sammie (an uncharacteristically inconsistent Rabine) and is caught between her developing relationship with Tommy on the one hand and, on the other, the unwanted obsessive, menacing attention of a powerful, egoistic, wealthy congressman (Robert Newman in an annoyingly detached, uninvested performance).
With the notable exception of Lucien's Tommy, Bradbeer's characters move through her formulaic story and director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill's desultory production in, at best, workmanlike fashion — all in support of a play that simply doesn't hold together.
Bradbeer throws out ideas for plays like so much spaghetti tossed at a wall but none of them sticks — not the play about a woman looking for self-respect and empowerment nor the story about a bright thirtysomething coed with a secret to hide from the decent man with whom she is falling in love. Perhaps it's the play about two estranged sisters trying to heal the wounds in their relationship. Maybe it's the play about a woman thinking of challenging a man who is consumed by his twisted sense of power and entitlement.
In fact, "Naked Influence" is about all of the above and, at the same time, none of them.
Two years after a reading at Capital Rep's 2014 Next Act! Play Summit, where it was the audience choice, "Naked Influence" still is far from ready for primetime.
What: "Naked Influence" by Suzanne Bradbeer. Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill
With: Amanda Sykes, Yvonne Perry, Brenny Rabine, Andy Lucien, Robert Newman, Julia Franklin, Nazli Sarpkaya
Designers: Jason Sherwood, sets; Thom Heyer, costumes; Stephen Quandt, lighting; Jane Shaw, sound; Freddy Ramirez, choreography; David Girard, fight choreography
When: Now through Feb. 14. Evenings — Tuesday through Thursday 7:30; Friday, Saturday 8. Matinees — Saturday 3; Sunday 2; added matinee Wednesday at 2
Running time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y.
How: (518) 445-7469; capitalrep.org