Google the title of the latest drama by celebrated playwright Katori Hall, and you’re likely to trip over sites that raise eyebrows among passing co-workers.

Hall, famed for “The Mountaintop,” which re-imagines the last night of the life of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., is delving into the lives of four women who work in gritty strip clubs in “Pussy Valley.”

The play, whose title comes from the nickname of a housing project near Memphis where the playwright grew up, premieres Friday at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

“These women perform with the skill and strength of Olympic athletes and use their bodies like artists,” said Hall during a rehearsal break Monday. “They talk about their jobs the way football players talk about their wounds. But we, as Americans, come from Puritans, so we often look down on these women when in actuality they are a combination of super athletes and artists who use their bodies the way painters use brushes.”

The daring play is produced at Mixed Blood as part of a season of challenging shows that includes the recently closed “Hir,” which had a transgender character at its center. The theater is being transformed into a club with lights, thumping hip-hop and mature subject matter.

Mundane genesis

“Valley” had a mundane genesis. In 2009, Hall, who lives in New York, decided that she wanted to get fit.

“I basically hated exercise and was bored with running and working out,” she said. “I remember passing by this class at Crunch Gym, this pole-dancing class, and going, hmmm.”

She took one pole-dancing class, then another and before long, Katori Hall, Olivier Award-winning, Oprah-loved playwright, was flying like Superman on the poles. Well, not quite like Superman, but she had developed core strength and power that she didn’t know that she had.

“Pole dancing is no joke,” she said. “I thought I was in decent shape but it requires muscles that you rarely use. After I got into it, I got hooked. I felt totally in touch with my body, totally empowered.”

That piqued her interest about the natural domain of this phenomenon that so captured her and many others. Strip clubs, and strip-club culture, are pervasive in America. It’s not just that pole dancing is being advanced as exercise for suburban mothers even as there’s a movement afoot to make it an Olympic sport. Twerking, which has been practiced for decades, is suddenly mainstream, thanks to Miley Cyrus.

Those moves have their origins in a gritty subculture that still exists and is built on degradation. And the strip club, where women have to get down on their knees to collect these dollar bills, is one of the rawest examples of that.

“We know there’s an emotional transaction when a woman decides to participate in the commodification of herself, of her body,” Hall said. “Kim Kardashian is an extreme example of that. Whether we decide to be onstage, on a sex tape, a magazine cover, all women are asked, to some degree, to participate in the commodification of themselves.”

Big ideas

“Valley” is being staged by Nataki Garrett, who chairs the theater department at California Institute of the Arts and who previously staged “Neighbors” at Mixed Blood, the sendup of stereotypes.

Garrett is attracted to plays with big ideas.

“Neighbors” was about “facade of blackness — blackface, clownish ghetto buffoons — that have stretched black identity beyond distortion into treachery,” she said. “Richard [the family patriarch] tries to avoid the stereotypes but the central question is, can’t we live in our own complexity?”

One of the central ideas of “Valley,” Garrett said, rests on history. “Women have sold their bodies for other people’s fantasies since the dawn of time,” she said. “And for that, they’re demeaned, by the people they serve and by society. This play shows the people behind pole dancing. It’s not just a thing where a suburban mom goes to the gym and gets her sexy on to impress her hubby.”

Playwright to filmmaker

Hall, 33, is arguably at the height of a career that started out strong. “Valley” is one of two plays that will premiere this spring. Her play, “The Blood Quilt,” set in the Georgia Sea Islands and centering on four sisters who have come to bury their mother, begins previews at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage on April 24. As if that were not enough, Hall is changing lanes, becoming a film director of her own play, “Hurt Village,” while also caring for her 1-year-old son.

“I get a few days to come to Minneapolis to see what’s up, thanks to my husband,” she said.

“Valley,” like most of her plays, comes from the pull of the connections she has had to the places she has lived.

“I write more from a sense of place than from any allegiance to a theory or whatnot,” she said. “Mountaintop” sprang from the fact that King was assassinated in Hall’s hometown. “Valley” similarly comes from being aware of it as she was growing up.

“Coming from the South, the Bible Belt, strip culture is very much part of the entertainment culture,” she said. “A lady and her dude would go to Magic City in Atlanta for a date because they got great wings, and you can get a lap dance. It’s all gravy, all breezy.”

The actors in “Valley” have trained for months to be able to do the repertoire of moves that dancers practice. They’ve also endured bruising and chafing, sprained ankles and other injuries as they toughen up for their roles.

“It’s the hardest workout you can imagine, but it leaves you with incredible core strength,” said Joetta Wright, a Twin Cities performer who credits her teachers at Perpich Arts High School for her openness and growth. “I come out of this not only a stronger performer but also a stronger person.”

She became reflective.

“There is a lot of judgment around pole dancing, but I’m thankful to Katori for opening up a space where we can appreciate the women who, by necessity, pursued something so daring and powerful. Hats off — way off — to her for taking on this subject and this issue with such poetry and force.”