‘Crystal’s’ Offers Stripped-Down Take on Identity

In her playwriting debut, director Aislinn E. Brophy ’17 brings stripping to Harvard. Revolving around the struggles of four female strippers, “Crystal’s,” Brophy’s latest production, will run Sept. 25-Oct. 3 in the Loeb Experimental Theater.

Brophy created “Crystal’s” after writing a monologue on feeling trapped by identity-based expectations, particularly those grounded in gender. Inspired by this experience, “Crystal’s” seeks to explore themes of womanhood and sacrifice. “I wanted to specifically write a show for women, and specifically one where women outnumbered men. A lot of things that happen in the show deal with what objectifying women does to [female characters] and how it affects their self-esteem and the way they think about themselves,” Brophy says.

For its female participants in particular, “Crystal’s” promises to offer complex roles that transcend stock characters and stereotypes. Emily E. Bergquist ’18, who plays the eldest stripper, Cynthia, considers “Crystal’s” to be a significant and compelling expression of female relationships. “You see characters getting in fights and arguments instead of this one-dimensional [idea of] friends being nice all of the time,” she says.

This is only one of the ways in which the play seeks to question orthodox attitudes. For example, body image is a central aspect of the show (hardly surprising given its subject matter). Members of the production praise the show’s willingness to embrace a variety of body types and its goal of destigmatizing stripping. According to Bergquist, “Crystal’s” steers clear of shame or avoidance of gritty realities.

The complexity of the female characters in “Crystal’s” has also proven a challenge for other members of the cast. “My character, Angel, is abrasive, nasty, irritable, and hates everything,” says Liz P. Kantor ’18, who plays another one of the strippers. Kantor says that she typically draws from personal experience when acting—something that has been difficult this time around—but the role has been particularly rewarding for just that reason. “I enjoy having to create her from the ground up rather than using my own experiences,” Kantor says.


Through the realism of the characters and the intensity of its approach, “Crystal’s” seeks to broaden the audience’s worldview on a relatively taboo subject matter, cast members say. Members of the production believe that Harvard students can learn from “Crystal’s” exploration of stripping as a livelihood. Julia E. Belanoff ’18, who plays Marjorie, another stripper, hopes the show challenges viewers’ prejudices. “We have such a narrow idea of what it means to have a profession,” says Belanoff. “I hope people walk away feeling empowered to take control of their own life, take responsibility for their own actions, and be open to their own bodies and forms of expression.”


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