Signature Theatre The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasBy Genie Baskir • Aug 28th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through October 7th
2:30 with intermission
Reviewed August 25th, 2012
A flock of semi dressed prostitutes, hordes of bare-tushied men, foul-mouthed Sheriff, foul-mouthed everyone, corrupt politicians and a madam more cultured and elegant than Mrs. John F. Kennedy. This is the most clean and wholesome story I’ve ever seen. Signature Theatre and Director Eric Schaeffer bring on hoots and hollers and Texas Two Steppin’; plain Texan speak and big hair; but the magic isn’t there. This show is so clean one wonders why Miss Mona and her ladies even have repeat clientele. I’m sure the regulars could get their wives to hand wash their schmeckels if only they would ask. The exhilarating temptations of The Chicken Ranch are just not here.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas represents a Texas past never to be recaptured. The closing of Edna’s Fashionable Ranch Boarding House aka The Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas augured in a new age devoid of small “c” christianity and its attendant virtues of kindness and generosity of spirit. The contrived scandal surrounding the uproar over an establishment conducting trade since 1844 symbolizes the coming of age of media personalities as ambitious for stardom as the subjects they covered. The rise of corporate upper case religion and publicly held media companies created an intellectual servility of a citizenry with too much time and money on its hands. We all might be better off if we had somewhere to go instead of staying in and watching corporate news sensationalize us into closing down respectable establishments….Muslim Community Centers in Manhattan, anyone? In Texas, corporate religion and its money base have created a small-minded and mean-spirited ethos presented for our edification on C-SPAN and cable television news every day. Writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson captured this devolution of communal forbearance and Carol Hall composed the music and lyrics portraying a moment in time when the world really did turn.
It all starts in the fictional town of Gilbert, Texas, a mostly peaceful place overseen by an Andy Griffith type Sheriff (Thomas Adrian Simpson) with a kind and practical heart. Now, I am not advancing prostitution as a viable career path; nor am I saying that outside of city limits brothels are the kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors society should encourage. I am just recognizing that there was a time not so long ago when women had only two lifestyle choices: wife or whore. And that is what this show is about: the latter women, for whom respectability was not necessarily denied if they comported themselves like ladies. Our small “c” christianity does not permit us to entertain judgment against anyone else.
Miss Mona (Sherri L. Edelin) runs a fine establishment with clean and healthy ladies and a kind understanding of humanity. She does well by doing good in her mind and her humanity is bolstered by her less than optimal origins. She can afford to be kind. Her ladies are women who choose to be there because that is all life seemingly had to offer them if they were to survive. Second wave feminism didn’t arise from nowhere. Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Simpson) acquiesces to the renegade business outside his city limits because it does not create more problems than it solves and he loves Miss Mona, although he never realizes that. Plus, the place has always been there. They are all done in by the loudmouth, sensation seeking Melvin P. Thorpe (Christopher Bloch), a Houston TV newsman looking for a scandal wherever he can conjure one up. The Thorpe character is based on KTRK-TV reporter Marvin Zindler, a man so large in life and his television persona that no amount of overacting can replicate the real thing. The real Zindler’s overarching need for attention and his Jewish religion made for some heady Texas news forty years ago when good-natured Texans everywhere could plausibly deny what wasn’t in their faces every night at 6:00 P.M. In Texas, Zindler was a name synonymous with all of the other great Jewish merchants of the era that established Texas as the most finely dressed state in the union. Marvin Zindler was already known for his name and outrageous family story before he discovered investigative reporting.
The set is dull and the show tedious until the Aggies show up. That number with all these fine young men and their naked tushies dancing and whooping up a storm sets the audience up for the raid which is well executed and show stopping. Edelin’s performance as Miss Mona is sweet and sympathetic. She is a sound businesswoman, but not a shark. She has a conscience and a capacity for love and loyalty. Nova Y. Payton as Jewel is strong in vocals and presence as Miss Mona’s house manager and Simpson steals the show as the sheriff caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, no pun intended.
The ladies in this show don’t require sympathy, but Angel (Erin Driscoll) is going home to her son and to start anew without relying on her body to make her living. Shy (Madeline Botteri), on the other hand, is rescued because she can make her way with her body. Tracy Lynn Olivera, as Doatsy Rae, conveys a wistful regret over her respectability as the counter girl at the diner serving up breakfast for pennies while her contemporaries outside of town serve up the other thing for dollars. There are some organic truths that no amount of self-righteous bleating can contradict. The male ensemble is superb with great vocals and splendid dancing by choreographer Karma Camp; and the local townsmen (Stephen F. Schmidt, Dan Manning, Matt Conner) fight communism via sufferance of the happy establishment in business since 1844.
The set is dark and foreboding, yet practical. Fans are turning and the bright lights against the dark rooms are attractive. The scene changes are speedy and well understood and the shootin’and hootin’ are well designed to startle but not induce cardiac arrest. This show induces a longing for a time when we were more tolerant of our friends and neighbors and we lived and let live.
Signature presents a good show, but not a great one. However, it succeeds in its most important burden: reminding us all of a time when we all could show mercy and love without qualification.
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Edsel Mackey: Stephen F. Schmidt
- Angel: Erin Driscoll
- Shy: Madeline Botteri
- Jewel: Nova Y. Payton
- Miss Mona Stangley: Sherri L. Edelin
- Linda Lou: Nora Palka
- Dawn: Nadia Harika
- Ginger: Amy McWilliams
- Beatrice: Tamara Young
- Ruby Rae: Jamie Eacker
- Eloise: Maria Rizzo
- Durla: Brianne Camp
- Melvin P. Thorpe: Christopher Block
- The Dogettes: Jamie Eacker, Nadia Harika, Davis Hasty, Ben Horen, David C. Jennings, Nora Palka, Stephen Gregory Smith, Tamara Young
- Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd: Thomas Adrian Simpson
- CJ Scruggs: Dan Manning
- Mayor Rufus Poindexter: Matt Conner
- Doatsy Rae: Tracy Lynn Olivera
- Senator Wingwoah: Matt Conner
- Aggie Boys: Matt Conner, Jay Adriel, Davis Hasty, Benjamin Horen, David C. Jennings, Vincent Kempski, Gannon O’Brien, Stephen Gregory Smith
- Governor: Dan Manning
- Director: Eric Schaeffer
- Music Director: Gabriel Mangiante
- Choreographer: Karma Camp
- Director of Production: Michael D. Curry
- Production Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
- Scenic Design: Collin Ranney
- Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
- Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
- Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8474.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.