A Walk on the Not So Wild Side

Talk about a bad day. Tamara, a librarian in her 20s, had to go home early because the power went off. Having nothing better to do that afternoon, she stopped into the clinic for a quick abortion. Now she's the only customer in a Manhattan bar, tossing back shots like Dubya during his National Guard days. Broke, maudlin, emotionally ravaged, she's trying to bribe the bartender for more booze with a fist full of Ecstasy.

It's going to get worse. Soon Tamara (Jenn Carnett) gets two very interesting supernatural visitors from the afterlife: Dorothy Day (Mary Ann Strossner), the rabble-rousing founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, and Candy Darling (Jay Michael Fraley), a transvestite actor who worked in Andy Warhol's stable. In a surreal riff on Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life, these otherworldly apparitions have been sent to Earth in order to rescue Tamara from the train wreck of her life.

That's the highly intriguing setup to New York-based playwright David Johnston's Candy and Dorothy, receiving its West Coast premiere courtesy of the Santa Ana-based Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company—which is once again stretching out and producing a playwright mostly unfamiliar to local ears and eyes. Based on C&D, Johnston is exactly what contemporary theater needs: funny, irreverent, smart, sincere, politicized and capable of huge artistic gambles. The very idea of putting Day, a patron saint to the American Religious Left, in the same universe as Candy Darling (whose greatest claim to fame proved not to be the films she made as part of Warhol's Factory but the reference Lou Reed makes to her in "Walk on the Wild Side") is such a ludicrous coupling that, once imagined, it would be sinful not to follow through.

Unfortunately for Johnston, his play and the audience, the execution of this piece just about kills it. Sharyn Case directs the play with all the grace and fluidity of a sumo wrestler trying to tap-dance. It's clumsy and inarticulate and halfway through the first act I was dying to turn on my mMode and see how the Dodgers were doing in San Francisco. This is a play that does operate on a lofty road—don't throw your life away, love your work and the moment—but there's also sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll and transvestites. So the production's lack of energy makes the whole thing highly disappointing. The script seems to scream for pedal-to-the-metal pacing changed up with sudden, brake-slamming moments of sobriety. But this one moves at a snail's pace (do we really need a five-minute recorded song before the play starts, or sloppy scene change after sloppy scene change?) and that impedes everything: the great concept, the decent work by the ensemble cast, the playwright's progressive political subtext, the story itself.

Now, with that said, one must give all props to Fraley for his performance as Candy Darling. Fraley is a Rude Guerrilla stalwart; in his time, he has played Satan, ass-licking junkies, psychotic mental hospital wardens, prim and proper child molesters, arctic explorers and everything in between. But not until I glanced at my program in the second act (because I was bored and my mind was wandering) did I realize that he was the guy playing the ultra-femme Candy Darling. Now, he can finally add neurotic transvestite to one of the most impressive rsums in OC theater.

Candy and Dorothy plays at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Also, Thurs., Oct. 7. Thru Oct. 9. $12-$15.

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