The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas | Curtain Call Repertory Theatre

From the pre-show carousel ride, through the first scene with girls wearing bloomers engaged in simulated sex under a strobe light, to the last, moving number by Waters, the production was a little intoxicating, at times a bit nauseating, and never quite exactly what one might expect.

 

By Carol Hall, Larry L. King, and Peter Masterson
Directed by Dennis E. Shelton
Through March 5, 2006

Fun like a B movie, racy like a Biker Ball, and as well mannered as a fish fry in Steeleville, Curtain Call Repertory Theatre’s production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas may have left a lot to be desired, yet it was so entertaining in its own way that, while I was watching, I forgot what might be missing.

Six girls of varying ages and physical types are “on staff” at Miss Mona’s whorehouse—or Chicken Ranch, so called because, during tough times, the girls accepted chickens as payment in lieu of cash. Miss Mona (Linda Waters) keeps a close eye on her employees, insisting on good behavior, and, in turn, offering relative stability and safety. Sheriff Ed Earl (John Hogenmiller) keeps a watchful, foul-mouthed guard over Miss Mona’s happy home, yet fails to fully take in the impending threat of Melvin P. Thorpe (Jim Kimker), a “Watch Dog” television evangelist who sets out to close down the house of ill repute.

From the pre-show carousel ride (the theater is in the Carousel House at Faust Park), through the first scene with girls wearing bloomers engaged in simulated sex under a strobe light, to the last, moving number by Waters, the production was a little intoxicating, at times a bit nauseating, and never quite exactly what one might expect. The theater is a small, carved out section of a larger room, with the audience facing away from the beautiful carousel, toward a stage that ran most of the length of the theater. The audience sat on folding chairs at tables covered with fabric tablecloths and dotted with tea lights, drinking free punch and munching popcorn, much like a low-budget wedding reception.

The set consisted of two rows of miniature beds, decorated with various colorful spreads, pillows, and personal effects, including stuffed animals, a lava lamp, and feathered masks. A black-velvet painting of Elvis hung on the wall over the beds. The props had a homey, comfortable feel, though at times some of the larger pieces seemed to be nearly unmanageable for the stage hands.

The production, which was directed by Dennis E. Shelton, used all areas the stage and moved out through the audience, too—probably a good choice, given the large cast and the small space. The pacing was a bit slow at times, with actors pausing too long between lines. Some actions and lines of dialogue, which seemed as if they should happen simultaneously, happened one after another. The orchestra drowned out some of the dialogue for audience members nearest the musicians, at least. When the action moved to the far ends of the stage, it was occasionally difficult to see the actors or to make out what they were saying. These flaws mostly affected the least emotional scenes, or perhaps those scenes were dry because of the acoustics and impeded lines of sight. Most scenes came off successfully, in alternately humorous and sad ways—a great achievement in a space obviously not built with theatrical antics in mind.

Some of the choreography (by Kim McCreight) was off, with dancers either not in step or exhibiting vastly different levels of ability. Some of the vocals also didn’t quite make it, especially a rather flat rendition of “Hard Candy Christmas.” Other numbers, such as “Doatie May” sung by Marie Moore, were, if anything, more moving for the limited vocal ability of the singer.

Linda Waters was quite engaging as Miss Mona, mistress of the house. Her songs had range and feeling, and her portrayal of Miss Mona was believable and sincere. Lindsey Jones as Jewel the housekeeper also has a good voice and brought life to her songs. Jon Hogenmiller was very effectively cast as Sheriff Ed Earl, coming across as a true backwoods Texas sheriff, cussin’ and spittin’ and refusing to behave, true to himself without appearing overly self-centered or unfeeling. Glenn Guillermo stood out in the role of the Governor of Texas, bringing “The Sidestep” to life and the audience to laughter. With all the charisma of a good politician, he seemed to radiate enjoyment. The four Aggies (Dan Jones, Alex Feldhaus, Bill Winterbauer, and Scott Meesey) were also amusing, dancing about in their tighty-whities. They sounded good together on “The Aggie Song.” At times, the “girls” sat on their beds in the background, frozen in place with blank faces, while the action took place in front of them, but some appeared almost too blank, as if they were experiencing shellshock. Maureen Riorden, who was very entertaining as the initially brassy Angel, looked especially catatonic when not moving. Colleen Wyss was also well cast as the cute and innocent Shy, going bravely into her first job as a prostitute.

With few exceptions, the girls weren’t especially pretty or sexy, and the men weren’t all that well built. But, while they might not make it on Broadway, they brought to the stage such gregarious, down-home enthusiasm, I found the show to be very enjoyable and moving, although a friend of mine with a more discerning ear was irreversibly disappointed by the musical numbers. It didn’t matter to me that the performers weren’t the best singers, dancers, or actors. They obviously enjoyed themselves and their passion was quite contagious.

Curtain Call Repertory Theatre presents Carol Hall, Larry L. King, and Peter Masterson’s Best Little Whorehouse in Texas through March 5 at the Carousel House (Faust Park, Chesterfield). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fri. & Sat., and 5 p.m. Sun. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. Reservations can be made by calling 636-345-7707.

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