Dallas — For sure, Theatre Three’s season-opening world premiere of Candy Barr’s Last Dance looks stylish and sexy in the pictures, and it must have sounded like a great notion to someone, somewhere, sometime.
But it all comes down to the sizzle and the seasoning, you know. When Texas-twanged, chicken-fried comedy is cooking, it can be a mighty tasty dish—and when it’s not, well, bless its heart.
Playwright Ronnie Claire Edwards, a funny lady with a track record of amiable, crowd-pleasing comedies, falls short this time around, and it’s a pity. Because, really, this is a good concept: just after the death of the gorgeous, notorious Dallas stripper Candy Barr in 2005, her work friends—exotic dancers all—gather to remember her life and theirs; to plot ways to crash her funeral (her family has them banned); and to compare notes about the Big Mystery of Candy’s life—her connection, or not, to Jack Ruby and the Kennedy assassination back in ’63.
Strippers and conspiracy theories—what could go wrong?
Candy Barr has a few stylish moments: director René Moreno and lighting designer Kenneth Farnsworth throw spots on a platinum-haired Candy (versatile actress Lydia Mackay) in the upper corners of the Norma Young Arena, Monroe-like and ethereal as she gently recites her schoolgirlish poems. And choreographer Sara J. Romersberger’s dance/strip routine for Mackay is sensual and prettily done, though sadly PG-13.
But those stylish moments are an odd match with the rest of the play. The comedy at center stage isn’t ethereal and pretty: it’s loud and raucous, just like every other meet-up of old Texas girlfriends you ever saw on a stage. So why, exactly, is the play determined to be refined about the sex-drenched allure of Candy herself? Where’s the Candy Barr of the Dallas frat boy’s dreams, hips shimmying and cap guns ablaze?
Mary Lang plays Corky, the only one of the strippers who never retired: she operates the “Strip Your Sins Away” tent revival, her body tattooed with Bible stories by her “carny” husband Roy. Cindy Beall is Tricksy, not quite married to her wildcatting common-law sweetheart “Big Tiny”—yet. In the meantime, they’re zooming cross-country in an RV to avoid BT’s greedy family (who want to change his will), with Candy’s funeral as a pit stop. And Marty Van Kleeck plays Houston socialite Flutter, a ballerina whose bouncing bosom got her tossed out of the corps (de ballet, that is) and into Jack Ruby’s strip club—where the nice fellow in the first row turned out to be the doctor of her dreams.
All three actresses (Beall and Van Kleeck are making T3 debuts) give these characters a go, but the dialogue is so crammed with “quote me” lines we start to feel cornered and force-fed within minutes. Corky alone recalls one of Candy’s husbands being “slick as stewed okra,” complains she has “an hourglass figure whose time is up,” and congratulates Tricksy on her rich boyfriend: “Girl, you’ve got your backside down in a tub of butter!” Even when the plot comes around to the mystery part of the evening—Flutter finds a photo of historic significance—they’re still too busy y’awl-ing and yukking it up to spend more than a minute or two dropping a few JFK conspiracy names and deciding what to do with the thing.
Somehow, the play never comes into focus: it’s all too much trying-for-laughs and too little genuine heart. Candy Barr’s wild ride across Dallas history is quite a story—but it could use a deeper, gutsier, and, yes, funnier telling than this.
» Read our interview with Ronnie Claire Edwards