By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Little Egypt was still a mite shaky at the preview performance reviewed, but it shows real potential as a fine one-character vehicle for veteran comic actress Ronnie Claire Edwards, who also wrote the script. For about 80 minutes, Edwards, familiar to TV rerun watchers for recurring roles on The Waltons and Designing Women, holds sway telling the "true story" of a woman about to be released after serving a stretch for bank robbery.
Packing up the photos and crocheted afghans that clutter her cell at the women's prison at Gatesville, "the oldest female incarceree in the state of Texas" recounts the numerous scams and swindles she carried off as a career carny and con artist. "Hangin' paper, Ponzi, numbers" were her specialties. She boasts to an unseen scrum of reporters that she also excelled at "telepathin'" and dancing the tango in fancy nightclubs.
The True Story of the Incarceration of Little Egypt continues through May 27 at Theatre Too, 214-871-3300.
Wonderful Town continues through May 20 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 214-631-2787.
Edwards the actress underplays all of it, working her rich voice down to the deepest notes. And even when she's going up on the very lines she wrote, she keeps a firm grip on the audience's attention. Edwards the playwright knows the satisfying appeal of the colorful Southern idiom. Her play, broken up into episodic yarns, earns the biggest laughs with a series of crazy stories about animals Little Egypt has known and despised. These involve albino chinchillas with sex problems and coyotes bred with poodles. "Ugly?" Little Egypt says of the hybrid pups. "They could turn a funeral procession up an alley."
Then there's the tale of the monkey she won in a game of five-card stud with an animal control officer, "thereby saving the monkey from the gallows." The creature was "scary-bright," she says, and turned out to be a well-trained jewel thief. "He could tell the difference between a $5 watch and an Elgin."
Anyone who's seen a well-acted solo show will ever after know the difference between cheap jack and a stylish piece of goods. Little Egypt is the latter, certainly scads better than Camilla Carr's dreadful All About Bette: An Evening With Bette Davis, which played in the tiny Theatre Too a year ago. Something about Little Egypt feels like a special event, like it's a work-in-progress command performance by a writer-actress doing this theater a big favor by being there. When the prison gates clang open at the end of the show, it feels as if the star and her wonderful stories are destined to make it on a bigger stage.
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