Theater

The Life and Death of Dallas Theater Center's Jack Ruby, All-American Boy

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As Chastity Fox, a nom de strip she says took her three days to come up with, Brown did her act as "The Mod Girl" to the "Theme from Peter Gunn" and Nina Simone's "Love for Sale." She worked at clubs called The Landing Strip, The Mermaid and The Diamond Doll, often in successive shifts on the same night. She called that "pulling a triple."

"Stripping was an art form then," she says. "You were always introduced as 'the lovely and talented.' It was creative, which was why I loved it. It was much more like theater than it is today."

After co-starring in Jack Ruby, she never went back to the clubs. "That door had closed," she says. "From Mr. Baker, I learned there is more to being an entertainer. You have to continue growing. He was very philosophical. He gave me practical advice. Back then I wanted to shatter people's preconceived notions about who and what I was. I worked a long time to get the word 'stripper' from being next to my name. I became an actress and singer. A stripper's career is 10 years max anyway. 'Chastity Fox' was a persona. It was a mask, an image. I did so well with it that it lives on today, without me even being behind it."


"I tried to make a dream come true," Jack Ruby says at the end of the play, when he is dying of brain tumors and lung cancer. "But it's too late now." But is it too late for Jack Ruby, All-American Boy to make a comeback? For it to become the major work of American theater that it seemed to be back in 1974?

As some critics noted then, the script has problems with its overlong third act, which doubles back to Ruby's Chicago childhood and then fast-forwards through his circus-like trial. It's also too big a show for most theaters to take on these days, at least on the scale DTC did it, with three dozen actors, many of whom played multiple roles.

Playwright John Logan says he'd love to see it revived. Actor Randy Moore, who played Falstaff in Dallas Theater Center's production of Shakespeare's Henry IV in 2010, thinks director Kevin Moriarty should take it on. "That's the natural place for it and that new space at the Wyly Theatre would be dynamite," Moore says. "It's the kind of show that Kevin could eat alive. His staging style is so kinetic. He'd have a ball doing it."

Moriarty says he thinks the play is "do-able," but he would like to see one of Dallas' smaller, alternative theater companies "take up the challenge." (Matthew Posey's experimental Ochre House comes to mind.)

Besides the problematic third act, the play also shorthands many of the details of the events of November 22 through 24 of that year; they needed no explanation in 1974, but they may now. Nearly 40 years later, younger viewers might not be so familiar with that history, says Moriarty.

"The play assumes a degree of historical and civic knowledge that has faded with time, and some of its most surprising theatrical gestures have since been seen in many other plays, perhaps lessening their impact ..." he says. "The mixture of sexuality and violence, the slow-motion physical sequences, the sideshow framing device."

In other words, Jack Ruby, All-American Boy was ahead of its time. And for now it remains stuck in history as one of Dallas theater's greatest achievements, waiting to be rediscovered. Waiting for its second shot.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner