Arts & Leisure

A worthwhile “dirty” on stage at GWC

MAGGIE UNDERWOOD as Angel and Megan Cherry as Mona in Golden West College’s production of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (GWC photo by Lara Farhadi).

By Thom deMartino

“Men aren’t ALL bad,” muses Miss Mona, proprietor of a local women’s boarding-house — and house of ill-repute — to one of her newest tenants.

“They’re just 92 percent bad.”

Golden West College’s fall musical is upon us, and getting risqué with the Martie Ramm-directed “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” – based on true events, the story revolves around “The Chicken Ranch,” a boarding house in La Grange, Texas, that doubles as a bordello… and an open secret to the rest of the town.

Miss Mona (Megan Cherry) is the madam of the house — a woman who is very particular about the rules of her place: no cussing is allowed, no kinks or fetishes … the ladies work voluntarily, without being coerced; and it’s her way or the highway when it comes to the house rules; and that, really, there’s “nothin’ dirty goin’ on” at her place.

The feelings of the local townfolk range from ambivalence to eagerness, to even a little wistful envy at the workers’ sexual freedom (illustrated in a moving little tune sung by the owner of the local coffee shop, Doatsey Mae, played by Jordan Hamessley.) Local sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Steve De Forest) knows full well of Mona’s place — having had a past with Mona herself, before she was the establishment’s owner — and isn’t opposed to turning a blind eye to the boarding house’s extracurricular activities (though the campaign contributions from Mona don’t hurt, either.)

Dust ups over and objections to the professionally-managed bordello might have once been effortlessly swept under the rug — or the objectors browbeaten into silence by Sheriff Ed Earl: but with the prevalence of television in an increasing number of homes in the early 1970’s, all it takes is a little spark to ignite a bonfire of righteous indignation … and Melvin P. Thorpe (John K. Wilson) is the man with the match.

Thorpe’s hit local show “Watchdog” is one part news exposé, one part gospel testimonial, and all moral outrage. Not only does the dubious “newsman” call out the Chicken Ranch and it’s madame by name, but he lambastes the sheriff as well: resulting in a near-beating by Ed Earl – unfortunately caught on camera.

Even political clout withers under public scrutiny: whether it be that of Mayor Rufus Poindexter (Tyler Fewell), Senator Wingwoah (Mark Torres) or even the Texas Governor (a scene-stealing Jay Harbison). All are familiar with Miss Mona and her establishment, and yet she’s persona non grata to them now.

While the Chicken Ranch and Miss Mona may be ahead of their time (in terms of health and safety and comfort of the ladies working there), the moral outrage of the righteous – hypocritical or not – is rising to a fever pitch, and isn’t likely to subside … at least, not without a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.

While the adult topic might make some potential viewers wary, it’s like Miss Mona’s motto, “there’s nothin’ dirty goin’ on”: just some fantastic performances from some of the GWC theater’s best.

A veteran of several previous Mainstage Theater productions, Megan Cherry dazzles in the lead role as the elegant, firm but sympathetic Mona, struggling to continue the legacy of the Chicken Ranch though the changing times… giving shelter — and, arguably, a home — to a number of wayward ladies, including most recently the precocious “Angel” (Maggie Underwood) and the mousy “Shy” (Kristin White): both young women fleeing abuse or tragedy. Imani Haze as Mona’s assistant Jewel is radiant (though one wishes it were a larger role for Haze’s considerable talents.)

The ladies of the house are numerous, all with great chemistry and personality, and with some excellent musical and dance numbers themselves: and while somewhat scantily clad, the women exude confidence and class, making no apologies for their choice of profession. Marcus Veyette plays multiple roles in the production, and particularly charms as the bandleader — breaking the fourth wall to address the audience and framing the action of the show. And as previously mentioned, Jay Harbison steals his scene as the blustering, politically-savvy Governor, with the tune “The Sidestep” (a number that will amuse any spectator of politics, past or present.)

You know an actor is doing a splendid job when he – or she – can personify a loathsome character, the kind the audience loves to hate – and Wilson excels in that here, as muckraker and rabble-rouser Melvin P. Thorpe; and De Forest once again demonstrates his powerful vocal talents and acting chops as Sheriff Ed Earl, struggling to adapt to a changing world and the power of the media.

“Best Little Whorehouse”, despite its subject matter, is actually surprisingly wholesome: women supporting each other, struggling to make a living in difficult times and circumstances, regardless of the societal mores… Eliciting sympathy and begrudging understanding by the audience, for an often misunderstood and vilified profession. While perhaps not suited for all audiences, viewers will certainly leave the theater grateful for their time with Miss Mona and the ladies of “The Chicken Ranch.”

“The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas”, Megan Cherry, Steve De Forest and John K. Wilson star in this fun, risqué romp about a house of ill-repute in the 1970’s, based on true events. Playing through November 17 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at www.gwctheater.com. Some mature language and themes.

 

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