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Pussy Valley Offers Messy, Maddening, and Engrossing Night at Mixed Blood

Jasmine Hughes and Megan Rippey

Jasmine Hughes and Megan Rippey

I'm not hardwired for the activities inside of strip clubs, so I've never actually experienced it firsthand. Katori Hall's Pussy Valley is a lot like what I've always imagined: tacky, crass, and more than a bit depressing.

Hall's play, which is receiving its world premiere production at Mixed Blood, is also an absolutely engrossing ride into an alien but familiar world set in the steamy heart of Mississippi.

See also: Mixed Blood's Hir Makes for a Thoroughly Unpleasant Two Hours

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Hall richly crafts her characters here, especially the quartet of pole dancers who spend their long nights at the Pink Pony. "This shit hard," proclaims Mercedes (Jasmine Hughes) as she demonstrates her technique to new recruit Autumn Night (Tatiana Williams).

They are joined by Get 'Em Gidget (Megan Rippey), who is a second-generation champion dancer, and Miss Mississippi (Joetta Wright), a bright young mother who is trapped in an abusive relationship.

The play carves out time for each of their stories, and for those of the people around them. Foremost among those is Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), the transgender club owner, and Lil' Murder (Mikell Sapp), a hot young rapper.

That's a lot of characters already, and there are plenty that swirl around the women at the center of the tale. The script doesn't scrimp on the harsh details of what goes on backstage or up in the touching-allowed V.I.P. room.

All of this makes for something of a sprawling mess, with ideas and characters (such as Mercedes's father, Pastor Dollah) introduced early on but left without any follow up. Yet for all the stray plot points and long running time (three hours; be prepared), Pussy Valley remains engrossing from beginning to end.

Give credit to Hall and her very rich script, but the strong company of actors contributes plenty to this, from the nuanced performances by the main quintet of Pink Pony characters to the intriguing, and often repelling, men who come in as customers.

Director Nataki Garrett adds enough order to the chaos to keep the pace up and running throughout, and the immersive set and sound design help bring out the play's swampy reality.

IF YOU GO

Pussy Valley Through May 10 Mixed Blood Theatre 1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis Free, first come, first served ($20 to reserve seats) For tickets and more information, call 612-338-6131 or visit online.