You Are Pretty

St. Idiot's amazingly intimate tour of a brothel is funny, daring, and real

You Are Pretty

Hippie Ho House, through Feb. 23

Running Time: 1 hr, 40 mins

Roundabout 12th and Chicon is one of the sweetest little brothels Austin has to offer. The digs may be small, but the Hippie Ho House has a full bar, three willing gals, and a full menu that includes such specials as "Say Wisconsin!" and "South of the Border." Yup, it's a pretty wonderful whorehouse, with all the kimonos, dildos, leather, and lace that goes with it. But if you spend enough time wandering through the Hippie Ho House, it becomes clear this schwag-n-shag pad has some serious cracks running through its fantasy foundation. Owner Jimmy Jolly would rather take a hit than pay a bill. Top earner Bunny has severely alienated her co-workers. The dishwasher is broken, forcing the girls to wash their sex toys by hand. Trouble is indeed afoot.

You Are Pretty, the latest production by St. Idiot Collective, presents this world to you warts and all: the flimsy sheen of sex on top, the rage and lust churning below the surface, comedy, romance, and a free drink besides. For a play with such a tantalizing, sensationalistic premise, though, Pretty is actually full of nuance, quiet moments, and sadness. It's about the fragile people sucked into such a ruthless lifestyle (however they mask it as a world of fantasy) more than the sucking of body parts. Pretty, in fact, has two hookers with hearts of gold: Despite her bitchy dominatrix persona, Rayven is warmhearted and frightened of making decisions; Ella, the matron of the brothel, always has a sympathetic ear for johns and co-workers.

Playwright Adrienne Dawes returns frequently to the removal of the brothel's superficial sheen. The Hippie Ho House may toast to "Peace, Love, and Rock & Roll," but that idealistic facade can't stay up forever. The fun and sexy atmosphere that Pretty opens with quickly dissolves into an alarm sounding and a customer shouting bloody murder over rough treatment. The other shoe is ready to drop at the slightest infraction, and when it's dropped, it comes down hard.

The site-specific, private-home setting intensifies these violent episodes all the more: Screams and slaps exist just a few feet away. The audience is led from room to room by the cast, and there's something about their constant beckoning to follow and having to figure out how to squeeze into a kitchenette that makes the audience more invested. And while stuffing 10 audience members and two actors into a teensy-tiny bathroom might not seem advisable (or possible), it actually gives Pretty's ensemble quite a bit of freedom. Stage voices aren't necessary. The actors don't have to worry about cheating out. Just as the girls switch between their dolled-up and real selves, Pretty's tone oscillates between moments of sleazy show and very real, genuine scenes of communication.

Jenny Larson, interim artistic director at Salvage Vanguard Theater, deserves a heap of credit for making You Are Pretty's ever-changing tempo flow so naturally, and the stellar ensemble deserves mention for being spot-on throughout. Due to the intimate nature of the set, Pretty's audiences are limited to just a handful each show. Tickets are hard to come by, but this funny, daring, and real production may well be the first can't-miss show of 2008.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

You Are Pretty, St. Idiot Collective, Adrienne Dawes, Jenny Larson

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