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CULTURE: Whore Wars Dallas 2006 -

Not so long ago, down the highway apiece in the town of LaGrange, there was a place called the Chicken Ranch that had nothing to do with laying eggs but a whole lot to do with getting laid. For decades it operated as an illegal bordello where bad-boy politicians could get done to them what they were doing to constituents, where college football players could pay to score with professional sure things.

The Chicken Ranch offered a friendly spot for a horizontal hoedown with some down-home hos. Local law enforcement let it be. Then along came a screaming, toupee-wearing, crusading-for-morality Houston TV reporter named Marvin Zindler, whose expos?s on the brothel got the Bible brigade to force the authorities to shut it down.

The story cracked the headlines for a while in the 1970s and might have faded into the annals of Lone Star State history were it not for Texas writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson who, along with composer Carol Hall, scrambled the facts of the Chicken Ranch scandal into a sexy theatrical fry-up called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Choreographed by Texan Tommy Tune, the show opened on Broadway in 1978 and played more than 1,500 performances. The campy but less successful movie starring Dolly Parton as Miss Mona (the madam), Burt Reynolds as the sheriff and Dom DeLuise as the Zindler character, Melvin P. Thorpe, came and went in 1982.

It?s been a good while since any Dallas theater mounted (tee-hee) a full-sized production of the musical, but it?s a nice fit at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, where it?s onstage through October 29. CTD founder and Whorehouse cast member Sue Loncar plays one of nine Chicken Ranch chickies and says she remembers watching the real story unfold on TV when she was growing up in Houston. And did this Highland Park mother of five have any reservations about playing a prostie? ?My kids just think it?s funny. Anyway, how cool is it to be 40-something and get to be in this show! I consider it a privilege and an opportunity to try to lose some weight!?

Husband Brian Loncar, the ?Strong Arm? lawyer on those TV commercials, is making his theatrical debut as The Governor, singing ?Dance a Little Sidestep? and spouting political doubletalk: ?As I was saying just this morning at the weekly prayer breakfast, it behooves the Jews and the Ay-rabs to settle their differences in a Christian manner.? Loncar says he?s bringing to the role what he tries to bring to the TV ads??My motto is ?maximum cheese.??

Whorehouse was risqu? Broadway fare in the ?70s, but by today?s Pussycat Dolled-up, G-String Diva-fied standards, it?s pretty tame stuff. ?It?s definitely not The Life,? says Sue Loncar, referring to the much edgier musical about streetwalkers. ?This show puts a sugar coating on prostitution. Miss Mona?s is less like a brothel?more sorority house.?

Whorehouse may be a bit of a museum piece but still has ?some things to say about the society we live in and the way the media blow things out of proportion, especially things of a sexual nature,? says director James Paul Lemons. But it?s not message-heavy. ?Think lingerie and big hair,? Lemons says. ?We?re going over-the-top Texas style, walking the line between camp and authenticity.?

For the actress playing Linda Lou, one of the scantily clad, by-the-hour hoochies who works for Miss Mona (played by Jenny Thurman), it?s the latest in a series of R-rated roles on Dallas stages. Cara Statham Serber gave audiences the ?T? and the ?A? as the cheerleader/prostitute in Kitchen Dog Theater?s production of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical and stripped down to her bra and half-slip as Janet in CTD?s Rocky Horror Show.

?Someday no one will want to see me in lingerie, so I have to capitalize on it,? says Serber, who recently co-starred in WaterTower Theatre?s Into the Woods and describes her offstage persona as ?Frisco hausfrau.? ?I spent all of my 20s doing Maria in The Sound of Music and Marian the librarian in The Music Man. I have to say, playing a whore is more silly fun than being Laurie in Oklahoma!?

Actor Joey Oglesby pawed Serber as a football player in Debbie and gets to do it again as one of the dancing Aggies visiting the Best Little Whorehouse. When director Lemons told Oglesby he?d be wearing a jockstrap, and little else, for one of the numbers, the actor headed for the gym. ?I have my 10-year high school reunion coming up, too, so I guess that?s a good thing,? he says. ?I?ve never been opposed to taking off my clothes for laughs.?

A Baylor grad who?s also part of the Second Thought Theatre company, Oglesby says his Southern Baptist parents are ?pretty open-minded? but refused to see Debbie Does Dallas, which was several notches raunchier than Whorehouse.

Maybe best not to tell them, or Zindler, who?s still on the air at Houston?s ABC station, that CTD occupies a two-story building off Lower Greenville Avenue that formerly served as a house of worship.

Says Sue Loncar, ?Yep, we?ve put the hos in church. We?re probably all going to hell for that.? ?Elaine Liner

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