Depending on what you find funny, Denise Stewart either has the best or the most offensive sense of humor in town. She is both an actress and a writer, and with Mendy St. Ours, she performs as the Tip-Top Twins, a bouffanted fictional comedy duo said to entertain at the diner of same name with humor bawdy enough to spoil the immortally delicious taste of a Tip-Top burger.
Dirty Barbie opened in Denise Stewart’s (pictured) home state of North Carolina last month. The one-woman show opens locally this week at the Hamner Theater.
But in her confessional one-woman show, Dirty Barbie and Other Girlhood Tales, Stewart gets serious. Well, kind of. “It’s the story of my life, growing up the child of an addict,” she says. In it, Stewart re-enacts the episodes in her largely unsupervised youth, as the youngest of four kids in a North Carolina family. The show’s oral history runs from 1978, when Stewart was a little girl learning to misbehave by playing games like “Dirty Barbie” (hint: it involves a bare Ken doll), to 1994, when her mother, an alcoholic, died. Dirty Barbie runs Friday through Sunday at the Hamner Theater.
Stewart says the show is organized as a show-and-tell, threading episodes—when she embodies characters and previous versions of herself—with a long personal narrative. In one character-based aside, she re-enacts a temper tantrum she had as a young girl, when her mother attempted to make her clean her bedroom before going to a football game. In an earlier scene she plays “Dirty Barbie,” the game, on stage. Dirty Barbie is rated PG-16.
Whether funny or serious, Stewart says the show is entertaining. “I took it very seriously that people were going to have to be sitting through this,” says Stewart of the show. “There’s tons of humor in it. But there are also real stories of real pain, of growing up in a very dysfunctional family.” To make sure it was entertaining, Stewart says she invited the funniest people she knows to preview the performance and offer feedback.
Though Stewart made it through a tough youth with an imaginative sense of humor, she says didn’t escape body image issues that the anatomically impossible Barbie form inspires in scores of young women. “A lot about my struggle with binge eating is in the play,” she says of the body image issues she combated. Today, Stewart runs a company called Wellness Charlottesville focused on helping people overcome body issues by emphasizing overall wellness of mind, body and spirit. A performance on Saturday at the Hamner is preceded by a journaling workshop geared toward improving the writer’s relationship with his or her body.
The play premiered in late March near Stewart’s hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina. Some of the characters she mimics in the show were in the audience. “It was a poignant place to start the show,” says Stewart.
What’s in a name?
The Charlottesville Pavilion postponed a press conference last week where it was slated to announce a new naming agreement. But a host of rumors—and now, the agenda for the April 4 City Council meeting—have spilled the beans. “It is our hope to immediately rename our venue the nTelos Wireless Pavilion,” reads a letter that Pavilion GM Kirby Hutto sent to the City in late March. (Hutto did not return calls for comment.)
By press time, City Council will have voted on whether to O.K. the name change. The Pavilion’s sublease stipulates that the operator—Charlottesville Pavilion, LLC —can change the Pavilion’s name, provided that it doesn’t contain “lewd or pornographic terms” or the “name of a tobacco company.” Charlottesville City Council must reach a decision within 30 days. nTelos also has a naming agreement with the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth, Virginia.