Welcome to Jenny’s House

Gordon Jones
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Kansas, 1871, where cattlemen and cowboys are willing to pony up $3 a pop for half an hour of dalliance with ladies of the night, who work in Jenny’s House of Joy, ministering to “stupid, dusty, sweaty, ill-mannered, sex-starved, drunken, tabbaca chawin’, bow-legged, unshaven, greasy-haired, smellin’ of horse**** cowboys.”

At least, that’s how Frances, the most acerbic of the ladies, describes the clients.

Jenny’s house is open seven days a week, although it closes for three hours on Sunday so the ladies can go to church. We never actually see any clients, but we certainly see and hear a great deal about the preferences and friendships and rivalries of the girls, not to mention a confrontation with a crazily angry, rifle-toting wife (Megan Jones), whose husband is guilty of calling on the residents of Jenny’s house.

The youngest and latest recruit to the establishment is Natalie, with no previous experience, but desperately needing employment after leaving an abusive husband and being swindled by a con man. She doesn’t drink, she doesn’t curse, and she has limited sexual experience. Nonetheless, she soon cottons on to her new profession, quickly becoming the most sought-after and best-paid of the ladies. No keeping a good girl down, apparently.

The four actors playing ladies of the night work very well together: efficient owner-manager, Jenny (Crystal Dawn Parsons); hard-as-nails, in-your-face, Frances, with Medusa-like hair and glares to match (Rhonda Rodgers); gentle, innocent bookworm, Anita (Anastasia Hopkins); and oh-so-demure and oh-so-smart newcomer, Natalie (Megan Kennedy), in whose mouth butter would refuse to melt.

The period drawing room set, accented with red, and period costumes for the ladies are attractive and persuasive. My only reservation about the technical dimension of the show is that blocking and stage traffic are sometimes awkward and repetitive. In particular, time and time again, Jenny is placed downstage right, where she is stranded interminably — except for a couple of occasions when she is moved to downstage left. Similarly, Frances seldom gets far from extreme stage left, but that is justified by her reluctance to be far from the stage-left bar.

You could never mistake Norm Foster’s play for a game-altering disquisition on the world’s oldest profession — but he does know a thing or two about constructing toothsome comedies. As usual, this one is well-shaped and catchy, even if the ending is a tad sentimental.

Directed by Alix Reynolds for NTA Productions, in collaboration with Joint Productions, Norm Foster’s amusing and stylish “Jenny’s House of Joy” continues in the Barbara Barrett Theatre on the lower level of the Arts and Culture Centre on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 8 p.m., and with an additional 2 p.m matinee on Saturday.

Including a 10-minute intermission, running time is a touch under two hours. So you leave sunny Baxter Springs, Kansas, and return to snow-bound St. John’s around 10 p.m.

Organizations: House of Joy, Barbara Barrett Theatre

Geographic location: Baxter Springs, Kansas

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