The Last Days of Desmond Nani Reese: A Stripper's History of the World

Heather Woodbury's new solo show about a 108-year-old fallen woman humanizes strippers and storytellers, whores and academics

Arts Review

The Last Days of Desmond Nani Reese: A Stripper's History of the World

The Vortex, through May 18

A gal dressed as a raggedy stripper of old with a penchant for black lace and ruffles appears onstage, a handheld microphone tucked into her cleavage. A person could be excused for having doubts.

Only, like all strippers, this show's got layers.

Hosted by the Vortex Repertory Company, The Last Days of Desmond Nani Reese shows a fallen woman who has been falling for most of her 108 years. Now, as she lives out her final days in a condemned cottage with way too many cats, a feminist graduate student named Amber von Anschloss has chosen Desmond to be the final interview for her thesis. It is a history of the world as told by loose women.

Amber is the most fun character to watch, as she crumbles under the weight of no grant money, a difficult subject, and an overuse of words like "herstory" and "hegemony." Writer and solo performer Heather Woodbury of Los Angeles pegs the well-meaning feminist at the right spot between caricature and pathos.

When playing Desmond herself, Woodbury is stubborn and crotchety – perhaps too much so. Even the spryest of 108-year-olds is not going to dash after a misbehaving cat like a woman on fire.

The script is the real strength of The Last Days. As Amber probes and pleads with Desmond for the story of her life as a stripper, she struggles to validate her own story. In the uphill battle to complete her thesis and empower sex workers through the ages, her layers are peeled away, one by one.

Desmond is a champion stripper, even if Woodbury finds herself hung up on the odd clasp of bra or turn of phrase. She tantalizes, tempts, and teases Amber and the audience as she reveals only pieces of her life at a time. She also retains total control – at least of the interviews, if not her life.

The Last Days compares strippers and storytellers, whores and academics, sex workers and artists, all of which has been done before. This time, the play humanizes them and leaves them all at the end without much cover.

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  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
Austin Playhouse's <i>Copenhagen</i>
Austin Playhouse's Copenhagen
In the conversations of this Michael Frayn drama, we learn that history is broken, just like us

Laura Jones, April 19, 2019

Performa / Dance's <i>Confections</i>
Performa / Dance's Confections
This evening of works, performed outdoors at the Umlauf, mixed art, beauty, and nature in ways that enraptured

Laura Jones, April 19, 2019

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Vortex Repertory Company's <i>Last: An Extinction Comedy</i>
Vortex Repertory Company's Last: An Extinction Comedy
The magic cast by the company of this devised shows pulls laughs from the impending demise of the planet

April 12, 2019

Penfold Theatre's <i>Crime and Punishment</i>
Penfold Theatre's Crime and Punishment
In this stage adaptation of Dostoevsky's novel, a fascinating glimpse into the more twisted corners of the human mind

April 5, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Heather Woodbury

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
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

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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