Often, what separates a standard lay from a grade-A romp is a detail here or there. A deft roll of the hips or a surprisingly acrobatic grind can turn mediocre sex play into memorable Nookie for the Ages.
A similar attention to detail is required if a theatrical production is going to move its audience. Take the Ohio Shakespeare Festival's production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: This usually capable troupe loses its grip on many small performance moments, leaving the weak and largely antiquated book (by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson) and music (penned by Carol Hall, who also wrote the lyrics) to fend for themselves.
Written in the 1970s, the show tells the story of the Chicken Ranch, a cathouse in Texas that was closed due to pressure from a bombastic TV reformer. Of course, most of the "outraged" politicians were wetting their pokers at this establishment for years, so there was plenty of hypocrisy to go around.
One problem with the script is that there are virtually no characters worth caring about. The madam, Miss Mona, is a standard-issue "harlot with a heart of gold," and her sultry employees are largely amorphous. Although new arrival Angel has a son to support, that promising thread is left undeveloped.
Instead, we are treated to a cavalcade of good ol' boys. These range from the batty and self-righteous Melvin P. Thorpe of "Watchdog News" to the blowhard politicos who tut-tut about morality while they're busy getting their beans buttered in Mona's back room.
Adding to the show's inherent problems are unexpected acting gaps. As Miss Mona, Jan Guarino is about as sexy as Florence Henderson in Tex-sex drag, never seeming to remember that she's a slut for hire. As a result, it's hard to buy her character, let alone her entire enterprise.
Mona's chief nemesis, Thorpe, is played broadly but with a startling lack of invention by Scott Shriner. Saddled with an ill-fitting and lumpy wig, Shriner brays the potentially amusing ditty "Texas Has a Whorehouse in It" without finding its satirical center.
The backup players -- Mona's girls and the Aggies, members of the Texas A&M football team -- only occasionally master the complicated two-steps. Several of the dancers sneak sideways glances, trying to match their timing. And when the football players are hoofing it in "The Aggie Song" in anticipation of their visit to Mona's, there's too much labored choreography and not enough surging testosterone.
All is not lost, however, since the excellent Terry Burgler is on hand to play Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd with precise comic timing and a fierce command of the expletive "Goddamn!" And Tom Stephan, as bordello habitué Senator Wingwoah, nicely channels Foghorn Leghorn with his repeated "I say, I say . . ." phrasings.
In sum, firmer control from director Nancy Cates could correct many of the loose details and make this Whorehouse a much more orgasmic experience.