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In 'Full' swing at The Empty Space

For its return to main-stage shows, The Empty Space decided to bare all — literally. "The Full Monty," which opens Friday, is the Oak Street theater’s first indoor production in 18 months.

Those looking for anything too salacious need not worry: The minimal, carefully staged bits of nudity only amount to about 10 seconds total in a 2½-hour show.

Beyond any sexual innuendos and profanity, this is a musical with a lot of heart, which is what drew in directors Kristina Saldaña and Jeremiah Heitman, who were involved in the 2006 local production at the then-Spotlight Theatre. (Heitman played Jerry.)

"While often depicted as a rowdy and raunchy comedy, it also touches on a multitude of seriously unfunny issues, including job insecurity, body image, toxic masculinity, parental rights, homophobia, and suicide," Saldaña wrote in an email.

It centers on the relationship between Jerry (Alex Mitts), an unemployed steelworker, and his son, Nathan (Ciaran Lollar), with whom he is trying to reconnect.

Along with his buddy, Dave (Nate Pugh), Jerry decides to put together a striptease act as a way for them to make money and improve life for their families, including Jerry's ex-wife, Pam (Missy Lonsinger), and Dave's wife, Georgie (Tessa Ogles).

Eventually the duo expand their ranks, bringing on board Malcolm (Trenton Benet), Ethan (Eric Lempinen) and Noah, aka Horse (Tevin Joslen), to dance, along with Harold (Jordan Fulmer) as choreographer and seasoned musician Jeanette Burmeister (Julie Gaines) to accompany them on piano.

Saldaña said she worked closely with the musical directors, Jill Burdick on vocals and choreographer Jennifer Skiby Plunkett, while Heitman focused on intimacy rehearsals, "making sure our men and women were comfortable with the staging of the extremely personal moments."

The directors were thrilled with their cast, with the men actually excited about the nudity, which was laid out for them from day one, Saldaña said.

"They don’t think it’s easy by any means, but they also think it's an exciting challenge and a bit freeing for them to experience."

Because of the brief nudity and adult content, the show is 18 and over, with those between the ages of 16 to 18 only admitted with a guardian. 

With this first main-stage production since the pandemic started, the theater is requiring audience members to show proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test within 72 hours for those who are not vaccinated). Masks are also required. 

Saldaña said the decision was determined by the primary guiding factor for the theater: Is this safe for and supportive of our actors and audience?

"We listened to science, we listened to what Broadway and other large, professional theatres were doing, and it was almost a no-brainer on what needed to be done," she wrote. "The most successful defenses against COVID-19 and this pandemic are masks and vaccines and we’re more than happy to do our part in helping keep people safe."

Response has been mostly positive (90 percent), which is what Saldaña said they expected based on their regular patrons.

Both cast and crew are gearing up for opening night, with everyone excited to welcome back the community.

Even the production values are high, with a set that Saldaña describes as one of the theater's grandest in years.

She wrote, "Brilliantly designed by Jesus Fidel and executed by him and a million other folks in the cast and crew, it’s truly spectacular."

For Saldaña, her biggest hope about the show is that people leave happy, knowing that "live theatre is back and The Empty Space is still open."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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