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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
<i>Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents</i> by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
In her second book, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines and breaks down the unacknowledged social structure baked into our country

Rosalind Faires, Nov. 13, 2020

<i>Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir</i> by Natasha Trethewey
Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
In her book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is a daughter who returns to her mother's crime scene to reclaim herself

Barbara Purcell, Nov. 6, 2020

More by Avimaan Syam
Arts Review
The flashy modern setting takes priority over Shakespeare's text in this update

June 3, 2011

Arts Review
The Dudleys!: A Family Game
This ambitious new play imagines a family crisis as an 8-bit video game

May 20, 2011


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

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle