Candy & Dorothy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 8, 2006
Candy is Candy Darling: Warhol superstar, actress, partial transsexual.
Dorothy is Dorothy Day: pacifist, social activist, co-founder of the Catholic Worker.
Who'd have thunk they'd make such a capital co-starring pair, in a new play that is bound to be one of the very best of 2006 (and yes I know it's only early January)?
Well, playwright David Johnston did, and in his wise, funny, gorgeous play Candy & Dorothy he's put these two remarkable gutsy ladies into the spotlight. He's blessed with two terrific actors to bring them to life, too: the estimable Sloane Shelton, feisty and fierce as the formidable Ms. Day, and, as Candy Darling, Vince Gatton in a sensational, star-making performance that is nothing shy of spectacular perfection.
So how do Candy and Dorothy get together? It's Johnston's brilliantly imaginative conceit that they're in the afterlife together: Candy, who died in 1974, is earning her (metaphorical) wings as a caseworker for new arrivals; Dorothy (d. 1980), is her seventh and current client. Candy has to put Dorothy through some tests, which are often highly bizarre and include co-hosting a cooking show (Candy demonstrates how to make a canned Hormel ham; Dorothy explains how to make a few mashed potatoes feed hundreds of homeless people), giving impromptu lectures, and reviewing pivotal moments from Dorothy's life on earth.
But the crux of the play is really the test that Dorothy puts herself and Candy through: the rehabilitation of a broken soul, that of Tamra, a young woman living in the East Village today who is struggling to find something to live for. Dorothy, from her otherworldly perch, sees Tamra floundering in front of the Catholic Worker headquarters at the corner of First Avenue and 1st Street) and decides she needs to help her find her way. Near the end of her rope, Tamra's been through drugs, alcohol, and an abortion; suddenly, these two dead ladies invade her life and turn themselves into her mentors. Their mission: to help Tamra locate for herself the spark (fame for Candy, eradication of waste for Dorothy) that enabled both of them to invent themselves in the very particular ways that they did.
The story is beautiful, hilarious, and (perhaps unexpectedly) profound. Candy & Dorothy gives us scenes of these two spectral visitors popping up all overTamra's life, from the bedroom (interrupting a romantic encounter with Sid, the nice guy that Tamra has just started to date) to the picket line (Tamra is a librarian working without a contract). Dorothy expounds on "queer cinema" and Candy explains how glamorous movie stars like Bette Davis and Kim Novack became so influential to a gay boy growing up on Long Island.
No pat answers to the riddles and mysteries of life are propounded—Johnston's too smart for that—but an appreciation of what makes life worth living is ultimately realized. The play ends with a beginning (more than one actually), literalizing that frought address (First and First) where Dorothy, Candy, and Tamra's lives initially intertwined.
Joining Shelton and Gatton in the cast are Nell Gwynn, vulnerable and open-hearted as Tamra; Amir Arison, superbly sympathetic as Sid; and Brian Fuqua, mostly in voiceover as the guy "in charge" in the hereafter, and also in one excellent scene as Tamra's somewhat disaffected therapist. The entire package is sumptuously mounted by Kevin Newbury, whose staging is brisk and lively and thoughtful throughout. Robert Monaco's set is very effective, and Jessica Jahn's costumes—especially the glamorous wardrobe for Gatton as Candy—is spot-on. Lighting by D.M. Wood and sound by Jared Coseglia complement the proceedings appropriately.
Candy & Dorothy is a very intelligent play, and it's also a delightfully entertaining one: it's the kind of rich, rewarding, memorable theatre experience that comes along only a few times every season. I wish it a long and successful life!