In writing about "The Red Dress," a new show at the wonderfully intimate 356-capacity playhouse at Town Square's Baobab Stage Theatre, it's necessary to separate this sometimes-breathtaking experience into two categories: the production it could be if Wassa Coulibaly's book weren't so nauseatingly one-dimensional and the entertainment it is under the strain of those structureless scenes that say too much.
This is an original tale that some of the Strip's top performing folks have put together and are performing mostly late at night so other show folks can come and enjoy.
The life of a prostitute is chronicled from her days as an often-abused girl in a Third World country, to a marriage to an apparently good-hearted man who takes her away to America from a physically abusive father, to the husband turning against his wife and becoming her rapist and pimp, to her striking out on her own, becoming a cocktail server, getting sucked into a whorehouse and then thrown out into the street, where she weeps, wondering how she has gotten to this point in her life.
A young man appears out of nowhere - I suspect he's an angel - and tells her, "You are just fine as you are now." And boom! She gets up, starts dancing to an uplifting hymn, and all troubles are gone. I wanted to say to this angel: "Have you seen what this woman has been doing on this stage for the past couple of hours? Don't you think that instead of telling her she's fine you should be kidnapping her into heavy therapy?"
The book's problems are insolvable, but the inventive staging, under the direction of Jean-Paul Loppo Martinez, always threatens to shout down the mediocrity.
It's obvious this could make an intriguing tale told though color, dance and song. You never know what surprise is around the corner. It's only when the show moves into realism that it loses its reality base.
I could rhapsodize about so many of the cast members, but space limits me to signaling out only the extraordinary movement styles and effortless acting of Joerg Lemke as the owner of the whorehouse. Sure, he moves well, but he's also able to communicate an eloquent, continental sense of evil. Such a seemingly well-traveled, well-educated character makes one scary villain. (I think I had him as a college professor once.)
A rewritten show next time? A book stuffed with implications rather than cornball dialogue? Or maybe no spoken book at all? Inexpensive program notes for the audience so that actors can be properly acknowledged?
I think a few tweaks in the right direction will give "The Red Dress" the considerable attention it and its artists deserve.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV, 89125.