"Picture it, Dallas, Texas." The wind-ups in Candy Barr's Last Dance at Theatre Three are something worthy of Sophia Petrillo. And perhaps The Golden Girls is the best foundation for understanding a comedy about aging women, sitting around a kitchen table, laughing over scandalous memories.
Despite the popularity of that late 80's television show, protagonists of most contemporary theater and television remain young, rarely handing the spotlight to a woman past a certain age. In that regard, thank god for Ronnie Claire Edwards, who wrote a little ditty about Jack Ruby's favorite stripper, but wrote it from a later-in-life perspective. The tales these retired strippers tell would make your grandmother blush and giggle. But by the end of the 90-minute show, the stories will feel vaguely familiar and repetitive, a little bit like your grandpa's stories about "back in my day."
It's the little things that make this play slower than molasses running uphill in the winter. For one, the stilted vernacular. These women pack more "down home" cliches into their conversation than is natural. Certainly there is a way of speaking singular to older Southern folks, but when an actress has to piece together expressions like "you're in high cotton," "you've got your backside down in a tub of butter or " he's as slick as stewed okra," even for a native it would be like learning a different language. Perhaps this is why two of the three main actresses struggle to find the heart of their characters.
When Cindy Beall prances onto the stage as Tricksy Dean, she rounds up the punchlines, shows off a few of her famous stripping rodeo moves and professes her love for her geriatric fiancé, lending the play an energy that neither Mary Lang as Corky Latrelle nor Marty Van Kleeck as Fluttle can match. She'll almost persuade you that if everyone on stage had her vigor, the play would work.
But like my South Carolinian grandma always says, the play is "all hat, no cattle." Because three aging strippers, tip-toeing around the time they hung out with Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald, gossiping about the women they knew and remembering their dear friend, Candy Barr, well it's really just a lot of talk about the good old days. A lot of talk.
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The gabfest is occasionally interrupted with recitations of poems by Candy Barr, given from the corners of the stage by a beguiling Lydia Mackay in a blonde bobbed wig. She's meant to be like a ghost that haunts the play - the vixen that brought them all together and got them into trouble. Mackay is a welcome presence onstage, her eyes sparkling as she delivers Candy's inane poetry, but her character doesn't haunt the play so much as tease it.
If Candy's poetry was so diaristic, her decisions so scandalous, her body so attractive -why place her story in the context of three sweet grannies? Perhaps Edwards is simply writing from a perspective that feels familiar, after all, her own career in show business is likely filled with salacious stories. And the loss of the beauty you long hung your hat on is a narrative all women are acquainted with. But that topic is lightly breezed over. The contrast between Mackay's young, graceful body and the "falling hourglass" figures of the older women should be a the poignant moment in the last two minutes of the show, when Mackay performs a full striptease.
For 88-minutes the play is conversation, spattered with memories. The women shake their hips a little bit more slowly and instead of packing these moments with a yearning for yesteryear, it's goofy and cumbersome. So when the lights go down on the pasties and panties, it feels a little bit like she stepped out of a grandmother's Moo Moo. Maybe what The Golden Girls got right was avoiding Blanche Devereaux flashbacks. Candy Barr's Last Dance isn't about wishing to dance again; it's about being glad that when these women were young and sexy they danced. They're repeating (and repeating) the glory days - not reliving them. This play is about getting dressed after the striptease is over.
Candy Barr's Last Dance continues through August 31 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh Street.Tickets are $25-$35 at theatre3dallas.org or the box office, 214-871-3300