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Messing with Texas 

Do-gooders want to close Texas’ (in)famous Chicken Ranch and stop the spread of sin. Where have we seen this before?

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Given the recent hullaballoo over Lake City Playhouse’s production of Rent, it’s remarkable that the Civic’s staging of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas didn’t incite the same response.

No matter how bubbly and twee the production, its subject is proclaimed in the title. Then add incest, defloration, and infidelity to that small matter of prostitution. And unbroken strings of profanity. Nor does Jesus come off particularly well. How did that escape the Moral Majority’s ever-watchful eye?

Quite honestly, this production could use a hefty dose of controversy. For all its risqué humor, it does little to raise the heart rate.

Mark Pleasant, as usual, is one of the high points. As moral crusader Melvin P. Thorpe, he revisits the camp demagoguery of his performance as Rev. Hooker from Lake City Playhouse’s Dearly Departed last year. But his charisma is a double-edged sword. When he leaves the spotlight, it shines a little less brightly.

Lance Babbit’s brief and delightful cameo as the governor is another. In the five minutes that he deftly performs “Sidestep,” sprightly ducking behind bystanders, he does so in a way that makes everyone else assembled onstage seem like bit players.

Then there’s Liberty Brewster as diner waitress Doatsy Mae. Like so much of Whorehouse itself, her eponymous solo is a detour away from the central story and down a cul-de-sac. But her delivery is so earnest, so flawless, that you wish for more detours like it.

And finally, Ben Bentler as narrator/musical director. He’s made good his intent to situate the orchestra — or in this case, the honky-tonk band — more prominently. They’re perched atop the pyramidal set, making the music less incidental and more of a feature. Rightly so, since these are some of the most toe-tapping songs of any recent Civic production.

Unfortunately, their best efforts are compromised by the same auditory soup that afflicted A Christmas Carol. There’s simply no depth. Lyrics and dialogue are washed out by thunderous cast movements and the band’s playing. This wasn’t helped by the breathless rapid-fire delivery of several characters. Opening night nerves, perhaps.

Director Marianne McLaughlin has eked what she can from Whorehouse’s mediocre book, but the production lacks the polish of previous ones like Thoroughly Modern Millie (which has an equally mind-numbing script), and Lake City Playhouse veteran Ali Wade looks to have had trouble translating her choreography to the Civic’s larger stage.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas • Through Feb 4 • Thu, Fri, Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm • Spokane Civic Theatre • $29, $22 students, $27 seniors • spokanecivictheatre.com • (509) 325-2507

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