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Theater review: ‘Candy Barr’s Last Dance’

Candy Barr’s Last Dance

• Through Aug. 31

• Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St., Suite 168, Dallas

• $10-$50

• 214-871-3300; www.theatre3dallas.org

Posted 6:59am on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014

Candy Barr will always be known foremost as an exotic dancer, the most famous stripper — one with panache — in 1950s and ’60s Dallas.

But she also loved to write poetry. For some reason (can’t imagine what) her way with verse is not what anyone remembers about her. (A book of her poetry, written when she was in jail, was later published.)

Writer and actress Ronnie Claire Edwards resurrects some of that poetry in Candy Barr’s Last Dance, which is having its world premiere at Theatre Three, opening the troupe’s 53rd season. But as poetry took a back seat to Candy’s onstage performances, so does it appear distantly in a rearview mirror to the coarseness of Edwards’ play, directed by Rene Moreno.

In the play, it’s the day of Candy Barr’s 2006 funeral and her former stripper pals Tricksy Dean (Cindy Beall), Corky Latrelle (Mary Lang) and Flutter (Marty Van Kleeck) meet at Corky’s place to get ready for the funeral — and share “remember when” stories. Jac Alder’s set of Corky’s small-town Texas place, complete with a circus banner advertising Corky’s business, is terrific.

Corky is a tattooed stripper and preacher, Flutter is a society woman who married well, and Tricksy has been through a number of husbands and still considers herself a wild child, although the right guy sits outside in an RV.

You might think of them as a bawdier Southern version of the three burlesque performers in the musical Gypsy; Flutter even gets her name from her love of ballet and especially Swan Lake, a la Gypsy’s Tessie Tura. (Gypsy Rose Lee gets a mention in Candy Barr’s Last Dance, too.)

They each have a turn to step outside of the action and offer a tale of their own hopes and dreams. The one topic none of them wants to talk about is of that time in Dallas, in November 1963. All three danced at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club, and a discovery in some of Candy’s belongings reveals a secret that shakes them all.

Lydia Mackay appears throughout as “Dancer,” although we know she is the ghost of Candy. She reads poetry and sends us out on a sentimental note.

Sentimentality is indeed the overwhelming takeaway from Candy Barr, which touches on Dallas history and never shies away from a fondness for nostalgia, whether sweet or seedy.

There’s a lot of funny business and dialogue in the show, but at Monday’s opening, the three actresses seemed slightly off on timing — although that’s probably as much the fault of writing that is unapologetically brash and somewhat clunky.

It appears that Edwards, best known for playing Corabeth Walton Godsey on The Waltons, spent much of her time coming up with folksy similes to heavily pepper throughout. Some of the funnier ones: “nervous as a dynamiter’s assistant,” “slick as stewed okra,” “cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss” and “they’ve had more work done than a ’59 Chevy.”

Granted, such sayings are prevalent among certain folks, but even they don’t utter them every other line. This feels like a collection of Southernisms strung together by some character-defining dialogue and history.

The three actresses create lovable characters; even the now-refined Flutter has a wild streak. Beall, dressed in a colorful outfit that includes fabulous sparkly silver cowboy boots (Edwards is also the costume designer), comes the closest to a fully realized character. But again, that’s more of a result of the writing.

There’s a lot of good material in here, and Candy Barr’s life certainly was rich with storytelling possibilities. But if you want a deeper look into her story, that play has yet to be written.

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