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.

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