Sloane Shelton and Vince Gattonin a promo shot for Candy and Dorothy
(Photo © Rahav Segev)
Sloane Shelton and Vince Gatton
in a promo shot for Candy and Dorothy
(Photo © Rahav Segev)
If Dorothy Day walked out of your closet and Candy Darling crawled from underneath your bed, you'd probably think you were going crazy. Tamara certainly has difficulty with the concept, and even more trouble with the advice the duo imparts to her. In David Johnston's hilarious and touching Candy & Dorothy, the playwright serves up an imaginative theatrical treat that delivers a tender, life-affirming message in a completely quirky package.

The play begins in the afterlife, as the recently deceased Candy Darling (Vince Gatton) is interviewed by a mysterious voice (Brian Fuqua). The famous transsexual and former Warhol superstar learns that heaven functions somewhat like a bureaucracy and that, before one moves on, there are tests that need to be taken and tasks to be completed. She soon finds herself as the case worker for another recently deceased individual: Dorothy Day (Sloane Shelton), crusading activist and co-founder of the left-leaning pacifist newspaper The Catholic Worker. The clash of personalities and value systems between the two provides Johnston with plenty of comic fodder, but as the play progresses, we discover that the pairing of the women is not quite as random as it initially appears.

From her place in the afterlife, Dorothy finds herself distracted by the dilemma of a young woman named Tamara (Nell Gwynn), who's still on earth. When the audience first meets Tamara, she has just had an abortion and is trying to unload a purse full of ecstasy in order to make some money. She hooks up with a bartender/bass player named Sid (Amir Arison) but her downward spiral jeopardizes all aspects of her life, including this budding relationship.

Candy and Dorothy begin appearing to Tamara on a regular basis, offering a variety of helpful tips; Dorothy counsels her on proper civil disobedience techniques, for example, while Candy insists that the best way for Tamara to ensure that people pick up the pamphlets she's trying to distribute is to shout "Free Pussy!" while doing so. Rather than being grateful for their words of wisdom, however, Tamara is often annoyed. "I need my imaginary friends to shut up right now," she tells them, seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Gatton proves his versatility as an actor, taking on a completely different type of role than the troubled teenager he portrayed last year in Johnston's Busted Jesus Comix. His Candy is glamorous and sexy, witty and sarcastic, possessed of impeccable comic timing. Shelton is equally impressive, supplying a grounded, no-nonsense interpretation of Dorothy. The two actors work well off of each other and both succeed in bringing depth to their characters, which could have easily come across as stereotypes.

The rest of the cast is also quite good. Gwynn is both gruff and emotionally vulnerable as Tamara, while Arison is utterly charming. Fuqua doesn't have as much to work with but his voice-overs are often amusingly rendered, though his on-stage portrayal of a psychiatrist whom Tamara visits is so one-dimensional that it can't really be taken seriously.

Director Kevin Newbury keeps the action moving at a speedy pace. Robert Monaco's blue-striped set design shows the limits of his budget but is still quite effective and has enough different entranceways to stage a bedroom farce. Jessica Jahn's costumes are perfectly suited to the characters; her outfits for Candy are particularly scrumptious. D.M. Wood's lighting helps to clarify the play's shifts in mood and location; so does the sound design of Jared Coseglia, which marks the interview sessions in the afterlife with the curious sound of breaking glass.

Johnston's writing crackles with humor, wit, and intelligence. Some might feel that he goes a bit overboard, throwing in complete non-sequiturs or passages that are immediately contradicted. For example, Sid says that Tamara may suffer from cryptonesia, which Carl Jung identified as the process whereby something you've read is experienced as your own memory; but then Sid himself dismisses this suggestion, acknowledging that he, too, has seen the ghosts of Candy and Dorothy. These moments are quite funny and give further insight as to how the characters think. The neurotic excesses of their discourse also ring true to the way people often compose their thoughts.

The playwright manages to convey quite a bit of biographical information about his two historical subjects, frequently in an amusing manner. Both lived on the Lower East Side during the 1970s. Candy Darling died in 1974, Dorothy Day in 1980, so it's at least conceivable that their paths once crossed. Even if they never met while alive, their pairing within Johnston's play is memorable.