Dallas — Why on earth would a teenage mom abandon her young husband and six-month-old baby, and just run off God knows where without even telling her beloved grandma, the human hub of local female life, as the owner of the Lovely Lady beauty parlor in Polly, Texas?
That’s the plot-driving question in Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home, Mary Rohde Scudday’s play about the limited lives of women in small-town Texas in the ’70s, directed by Emily Scott Banks at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Originally produced at the Dallas Theater Center in 1978, the show features Cheryl Denson as Mama Alice, the tough but loving matriarch of the not-so-high-falutin’ Karo family, the role she originated in the premiere as a young DTC company member 37 years ago.
In a flowered working apron and a marvelously wavy helmet of gray hair, Denson’s hard-working, humorous and insightful Mama Alice anchors the show, as a half-dozen Texas gothic characters move in and out of her bright rose-colored beauty parlor or crash on the lumpy sofa in her dark-toned house next door.
Mama Alice and her daughter and employee Tish (a tight-lipped, sad-faced Cindee Mayfield) are combing out hair and talking loudly with customers sitting under the dryer in Rodney Dobb’s perfectly detailed house-by-parlor set as the show opens. Everybody is abuzz with gossip about Margie Lynn (pouty, pretty Katlin Moon-Jones), Tish’s teenage daughter who’s been gone for months, leaving her hapless husband Jimmy (John Ruegsegger) to care for their infant son.
Jimmy’s motor-mouthed Aunt Eula (a bristly, in-your-face Marisa Diotalevi) rants between roller removals about poor Jimmy, and her growing suspicion that not even Tish, a clearly browbeaten wife who brushes out customers with a weak smile and a constant look of pained acceptance, knows her errant daughter’s whereabouts. In one hilarious scene, Mama Alice goes for Eula with a warrior’s zeal, brush in one hand, hair spray in the other, literally smothering the mean-assed gossip’s words before they can be spoken. Long, tall Shorty (smiling, lanky Sue Loncar), the local bar owner, fusses with her big, teased-out curls, as she accidentally refers to the vanished Margie Lynn. “My husband always said I could screw up a dog fight,” she says, all apologies and redneck-isms.
Back at the house, Mama Alice is surprised her good-looking unemployed son Jack (laid-back, aggressively muscled Shane Hamlin) has shown up, having just filed for his fifth divorce and hungry for some of Mama’s cooking. Smiling at her rascal of a son, Mama heads for the kitchen.
When Margie Lynn does sneak in for a late-night manicure at the shop, she’s got some seriously sexy female sidekicks with her, the likes of which nobody in Polly seems to have ever seen before. Dark-eyed Raven Garcia is tough-girl glamorous as CC, a woman who knows her way around a male bully. Svelte, long-legged Catherine DuBord is a delightfully dumb slattern, her pretty face frowning in confusion over just about everything.
When push comes to shove—and I do mean both—the laughs give way to cries for help and understanding from the youngest of the put-upon Karo women, all of who cope with violent, abusive and stubbornly controlling men as best they can. Before the two-hour play is done, the question of why young Margie Lynn might jump from the hair dryer into the white Lincoln has been explored. What she must do next is a question left for another episode, as a resigned Mama Alice turns back to the Lovely Lady to do what needs to be done for work tomorrow.
I’m cheering for Denson’s Mama Alice and her get-on-with-it toughness of a woman who’s managed to at least carve out some small financial independence for herself in a world where right is defined by men for men. Margie Lynn, after much advice and soul-searching, seems as much a victim at play’s end as she is at the outset, leaving us stuck somewhere in the hinterlands of the 70s, “about 42 miles from San Antonio,” although which direction is never made clear.