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Below the Rust 

The Full Monty has nothing to do with Monty Python. But it might as well -- if inspired nonsense is the criterion. In fact, before the play took Broadway by storm in 2000, The Full Monty was a British film about six unemployed steel workers in Sheffield, England. The version currently on the boards at Le Petit is Yankified (except for the title). These unemployed steel workers live in Buffalo, N.Y.Ê

However, "the full monty" -- a bit of limey slang -- has somehow migrated to the colonies. It means "the whole hog" or "all the way." There are various possible origins for the phrase. One cites a tailor named Montague Burton -- the full Monty, being a complete three-piece suit, the works. Another stab at etymology names Field Marshall Montgomery of World War II fame as the prime suspect -- the full Monty being either his chest full of medals, his long-winded pep talks or his penchant for an elaborate country-style breakfast.

In any case, it's pretty odd that New York state steel workers would hit on a transatlantic turn of phrase to describe the daring last step in their male striptease dance. For, yes, this bunch of regular Joe's from the AFL-CIO has gotten so desperate that they're ready to try anything. "I'm 32 years old, out of work and in debt up to my balls," one sums up his dilemma.

The tensions of leisure and insolvency are taking their toll. Dave (Dane Rhodes) is doing his manly best as a house husband, but his sex life with spouse Georgie (Vanessa Van Vrancken) has not weathered the chaos of role reversal. Dave's buddy Jerry (Robert Richardson) has even more pressing conflicts. He risks losing custody of his young son Nathan (Dominic Lloyd) unless he starts kicking in on the arrears of child support to ex-wife Pam (Trina Beck).

Malcolm (Scott Sauber), another buddy, is ready to pack it in by running his car motor with the windows up. Malcolm lives with his mom, although we have no reason to think she is the cause of his attempted suicide.

Clearly, for a musical comedy, we are in deep, adult waters. But they are deep, adult comic waters. For instance, when Dave and Jerry rescue Malcolm they sing a song, "Don't kill yourself, we'll do it for you -- you've got a friend".

Well, whatever "the full monty" once meant in England, here in the former crown jewel, it now means just that: the crown jewels, full frontal nudity. Chippendale dancing first appears on the horizon when the steel workers' wives go to a male strip club. The women pay top dollar and have themselves a ball, thanks, in part, to "Keeno" (Sean Richmond, who also played a hard body in the U.S. national tour of The Full Monty). This unexpected cavorting by their better halves gives Dave, Jerry, Malcolm and their cohorts an idea: "Why don't we go into the pelvic thruster trade?" There's gold in them thar hills (or under them thar follow-spots).

Playwright Terrence McNally has fun with each step of their journey. The guys get to audition. The guys get to rehearse. And the guys get to perform. Finally, they even go The Chippendales one further. They do "The Full Monty!"

Now, The Full Monty is not the first musical about labor relations. The Pajama Game caroled seven-and-a-half-cent pay raises and the obsessions of a time-study man. But I can't remember the last time a line of briefcases looked quite so brief up there in America's longest continually active community theater.

Like Urinetown, which recently ruffled some feathers at Rivertown Rep, The Full Monty is more josh than affront. Dingle dangle jokes are not likely to send anyone to their father confessor. In fact, in many ways, the humor rests on a solid, conventional, middle-class outlook. It's like, boy, aren't these "real American working guys" acting wild and crazy. So, while the 90th season opener is a departure for Le Petit, it's maybe not as radical a departure as you might think. Ê

Directors Derek Franklin and Sonny Borey have assembled a strong, spirited and graceful cast who manage to mine a great deal of fun from the goings-on. The band, in the attractive, spanking new orchestra pit (under Franklin's direction) rocks away in fine form to David Yazbek's catchy tunes. Karen Hebert's choreography is delightful. The uncredited set has a jazzy, industrial feel. Gary Solomon and Earl Lennie's lighting is particularly noteworthy.

In this large cast, it's hard to point out every laudable performance, but among the standouts are Cynthia Owen, William Di Paola, Perry Williams, Bryan Wagar, Mandy Zirkenbach and Leah Bond.

click to enlarge Some unemployed union members expose themselves to - new opportunities in  The Full Monty . - JOHN B. BARROIS
  • John B. Barrois
  • Some unemployed union members expose themselves to new opportunities in The Full Monty .
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