I used to suggest, only half-jokingly, that we could radically reduce the marketing budget for shows by putting “Nude Female Mud Wrestling” up on our marque and let the chips fall where they may when audiences found out it was Beckett instead. We got to test this hypothesis to some degree when we produced THE EARLY GIRL in 1987. The early girl takes care of the pre-5pm trade in a house of prostitution. It’s the booby prize that goes to the lowest earner.

Originally produced at Circle Rep Off-Broadway in 1986, THE EARLY GIRL was actress Caroline Kava’s first play, based on her 1979 research at a house of prostitution in the Midwest while working on the film Heaven’s Gate. In NYC Demi Moore made her stage debut as Lily, the new arrival at the house, Pamela Dunlap was the madam, and Robin Bartlett stood out in otherwise mixed reviews as the early girl.

At the Back Alley, Kim Delaney was supposed to play Lily, but had to leave for a job during previews so was replaced by her stand-by Siobhan McCafferty, who did a great job, Morgan Lofting was the strong madam, and Lisa Pelikan pulled off the acerbic early girl with the empathetic heart. Tracy Shaffer, Deborah Sandlund, Denise Gordy, and a truly terrific, almost completely silent performance by Kim Lankford rounded out the strong ensemble cast.

James Gardner started as the director but mid-way through rehearsals the cast rebelled and basically said it’s him or us. Allan took over the direction and brought it home.

As in NY, the reviews were all over the map, but audiences were so strong, particularly on Thursday evenings when we had post-show discussions with people who had left the life of prostitution, that the run was extended. And did I mention that in the first act, set in the summer, the women wore bathing suits, while in the second act, set in the winter, they changed to evening gowns? The cast, all of whom looked terrific to begin with, literally shrunk before our eyes during the rehearsal period.

According to an interview with a New York paper, Caroline saw prostitution as a metaphor for the waiting game which everyone plays to some degree, but which the acting profession puts into boldest relief. “I recognized myself in them,” Kava said, ”because like me, they were waiting for something to happen, waiting for someone to save them, waiting for the ‘Big Break’ that was going to determine the next move in their lives.”

The LA Reader called it, “an examination of the denial of self, total vulnerability, self-deceit—how the seven very different characters cope with what they do, what they tell themselves, what they do or do not feel…Kava invites us to mentally peel away the veneer, or peer around the corner, to find our own answer.”

–Laura Zucker