Directed by – Rene Moreno
Set Design – Jac Alder
Costume Design – Ronnie Claire Edwards
Lighting Design – Kenneth Farnsworth
Sound Design – Graeme Bice
Choreographer – Sara J. Romersberger
Tricksy Dean – Cindy Beall
Corky Latrelle – Mary Lang
Flutter – Marty Van Kleeck
Dancer (Candy Barr) – Lydia Mackay
Pictures: Lydia Mackay
Reviewed Performance 8/11/2014
Reviewed by Kristy Blackmon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In Candy Barr’s Last Dance, actress and playwright Ronnie Claire Edwards tells the story of the infamous Dallas stripper who had torrid affairs with Mickey Cohen and Jack Ruby, shot her second husband, and spent the first part of the 1960s in the Goree State Farm for women outside of Huntsville serving a sentence for drug possession after a police raid on her apartment discovered four-fifths of an ounce of marijuana hidden in her bra.
Edwards uses three aging former strippers to tell the story of Juanita Dale Slusher, better known as Candy Barr, who left home at the age of thirteen to escape childhood sexual abuse and wound up headlining in burlesque shows from Dallas to Hollywood. The three friends have gathered in stripper-turned-revivalist Corky Latrelle’s kitchen before Candy’s funeral to reminisce, Ya-Ya Sisterhood style, about Candy’s stripping days, her entanglement with the mob, and the escape route she often took into the world of poetry.
The Norma Young Arena Stage at Theatre Three held a country kitchen, the type with rickety wooden furniture, and women in bikini aprons whipping up a nice, Crisco-laden Frito pie casserole to take to Candy’s funeral. The set was beautifully dressed; no matter which of the three sides an audience member sat, there was some focal point around which the three women revolved, like one of those paintings where the eyes seem to follow you wherever you go. Set Designer Jac Alder built a setting where the furniture and props complemented one another perfectly.
The lights come up on tattooed and slightly tattered Corky, played by Mary Lang, as she putters around her kitchen, fretting over what time the funeral is. Corky is clothed in a purple spandex top and polyester-silk blend skirt with huge, gaudy plastic earrings she keeps having to take off to answer the phone. Unselfconscious and unabashed, Corky is the central character in this trio. Petting and fretting over her two friends, Lang emotes a maternal feeling while simultaneously pecking at them with love. As Lang hollers and fidgets around the space, she paints a clear portrayal of a woman who rarely stands still. She is covered with head-to-toe tattoos of biblical scenes, her decorated arms and legs poking out of her inelegant outfit to marvelous effect. Playwright Edwards also designed the costumes. She holds no punches with any of the characters, but Corky’s costuming is especially spot-on.
As she prepares her culinary masterpiece, Corky shouts back to her friend Flutter, a 1950s stripper turned high-society Houstonian, played by Marty Van Kleeck. Van Kleeck keeps her voice soft and manner refined amid the raucousness of the other two characters and in the face of this onslaught of memories caused by Candy’s death. She does a good job portraying a woman with a racy past who is now a grandmotherly, Junior League type. Van Kleeck is a little stilted in the first act, but by the second act is fully settled into the role and is much more engaging to the audience. Flutter faces a difficult decision at the end of the play, and Van Kleeck depicts her struggling conscience to good effect. Once again, Edwards’ costume design is nearly impeccable. Flutter’s mint green silk suite, ermine jacket, tasteful hairdo and understated accessories reflect the character’s personality extremely well.
Tricksy Dean, the last member of the trio, is a loud-mouthed, boisterous Texas girl with a one-liner saying for everything. If Corky represents the East Texas religious, slightly seedy zealot and Flutter is the epitome of old Houston aristocracy, Tricksy, played by Cindy Beall, is West Texas all the way. While slightly over the top, Beall benefits from some of the best lines in the play and she delivers these Texisms brilliantly and naturally. Each of the women gets a couple of opportunities to tell their histories through monologue: how they got into the business, what their acts were like, and their connection to Candy Barr. Beall delivers a side-splitting portrayal of her first strip tease dressed as a rodeo clown. With her gold cowboy hat and matching boots, big shoulder pads and color blocked running suit right out of the 1980s, Edwards does a fine job matching Tricksy’s costume to her personality.
The fourth member of the cast is Candy Barr herself, played by dancer Lydia Mackay. The bleach blonde, voluptuous Mackay appears only to recite the beautiful poetry written by the real Candy Barr. Each verse relates perfectly to the action on the stage, and Edwards’ gambit pays off in spades as Mackay juxtaposes her quiet, restrained language of soft beauty against the other ladies’ loud and sometimes raunchy repartee. Mackay delivers her lines with a haunting intensity that adds much-needed balance to the over-the-top action onstage. Mackay’s recitations can seem one-note, probably due to the uniform theme of loss and betrayal that runs through all of the poems she reads. Still, the small moments in which she appears are by far the most powerful of the play, and her closing striptease, choreographed by Sara J. Romersberger, is simultaneously sexy, dreamy and dramatically triumphant.
Dressed in a black kimono, Mackay’s body blends in to the black walls of the house while a spotlight hits just her head, making her blonde hair and pale skin shine like a beacon. It is one of many highly skilled moves by Lighting Designer Kenneth Farnsworth throughout the production. His mastery over fades, spotlights and transitions rarely leave an actor unlit when they should be and add much to the overall mood of the different scenes. However, I was slightly distracted from the magic Mackay brings by the abrupt way she transitions out of her spotlights. The spotlights goes off and Mackay is left to maneuver her way through the aisles, the action on stage already in full swing before she escapes into the wings. The effect is disrupting.
The play explores the many facets of Candy Barr through the lens of memory. Storylines are picked up and left to drift as the ladies move on to the next bit of gossip and reminiscence. From the Lee Harvey Oswald conspiracy to personal struggles and scandals, Candy Barr’s Last Dance touches on a diversity of subjects in moving, funny and tragic ways. These are roles any woman over a certain age would be itching to play. The play should become a staple in Texas theatre, deservedly so.
CANDY BARR’S LAST DANCE
2800 Routh Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
Runs through September 14th
Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. The Hooky Matinee performance is Wednesday, August 20th at 2:00 pm.
Tickets range from $20.00 to $50.00, depending on date and seating. A $3.00 discount is available for seniors and students Thursday – Sunday. Hooky Matinee tickets are $10.00-$15.00.
For information, go to www.theatre3dallas.com or call the box office at 214-871-3300.