Sherri L Edelen and Thomas Adrian Simpson are one of DC’s finest theatrical couples. They are currently playing opposite each other in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Signature Theatre in the roles of Miss Mona Stangley and Sherriff Ed Earl Dodd. They both won Helen Hayes Awards for their work on Signature’s Les Miserables and have appeared either together or separate at Signature in Urinetown, Side By Side By Sondheim, The Boy Detective Fails, Walter Cronkite is Dead, and The Witches of Eastwick to name a few. Some of Thomas’s other credits include Liberty Smith and 1776 at Ford’s Theatre, Oh, Coward! and Oliver at Olney Theatre Center and Adding Machine, A Musical at The Studio Theatre. Additional credits for Sherri include The Light in The Piazza (Barrymore Award winner) and Elegies (Barrymore Award nomination) for Philadelphia Theatre Company, Our Town at Arden Theatre and The World Goes Round and The Diary of Anne Frank at Round House Theatre. When you go to see The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas at Signature Theatre, and I really suggest you do so, take note of the chemistry Sherri and Thomas have onstage. It is just one of the reasons the show is just so darn good. It is not necessarily a good thing to be in the same profession as your spouse but as you will read, with Sherri and Thomas it is the perfect fit for these two very talented performers.
Where did you two first meet?
Sherri- We met at Signature’s old space, the garage, in September of 2003 during Hurricane Isabelle. I was doing a reading of The Highest Yellow in the lobby and Marcia Gardner had Tom come in and read the stage directions. We had no power due to the storm and Eric Schaeffer strung up bare light bulbs on a wire for us to do the reading. I had seen Tom in shows around town and I went up to him and said, “I know everybody you know. Why don’t I know you?” Then we both did a production of A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre (the final David Bell version) that holiday season. We took a liking to each other, but I was kind of seeing someone long distance (which ended in January 2004). So we just hung out as friends. That friendship became the best foundation for our relationship. We officially started dating in March of 2004. I kept him on a long leash!!
Thomas- We met at Signature Theatre doing a reading of The Highest Yellow.
How many productions have you appeared in together?
Sherri-A Christmas Carol, The Witches of Eastwick, A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage, Urinetown, The Boy Detective Fails, The Hollow and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I may be leaving something out.
Thomas- We’ve done five or six plays together.
Can you each please tell us about your character in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?
Sherri- Mona Stangley is loosely based on Edna Milton, the actual Madame of The Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, TX. Edna was born in OK, one of many children. Perhaps she chose prostitution due to necessity. But she was bequeathed the Chicken Ranch by the prior madame, Miss Jessie Williams (Miss Wulla Jean in the show) in 1952. I have yet to find much about her life before The Chicken Ranch. The Ranch closed in 1972 or ’73, depending on which online article you read. So she had a great business for 20 years. She continued the business concept of Miss Jessie. The girls were given medical care regularly and had free room and board. The men had to be cleaned as well. And it’s rumored that over 300 customers could visit the Ranch in a day. “We go in for mass volume and repeat business,” to quote a line from the show. Now when they opened the show on Broadway, Edna was known to say, “The only thing true about that show is that there was a Chicken Ranch.” So many liberties are taken. For example, Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (based on Sheriff TJ Flournoy) had a long unspoken relationship in the show. But not true of Edna and TJ. But TJ did protect her. After all, she was bringing in a respectable amount of folks into LaGrange.
Thomas- Ed Earl is a guy’s guy – outdoorsy, hardworking, simple and not very good at expressing his feelings.
Is it hard being in the same profession as your spouse or does it provide good therapy after a long day?
Sherri-The downside is that our combined incomes aren’t that great. Some years it’s great, some not. But we round out our incomes with smaller gigs as we can. We only get one day off a week and often that’s not enough time to get things done. But sometimes we have 6 weeks off or more between shows. It’s a crazy life! The up side is that we can help each other out with our scene work and for this show, we ride in to work together which saves a lot of money in our Fredericksburg to DC commute.
Thomas- Being married to another actor is only hard when it comes to paying the bills and planning vacations.
Of the shows you have appeared in together which is your favorite?
Sherri-I loved Urinetown, The Boy Detective Fails and now Whorehouse. I could have run Urinetown a long time. Tom and I only had one very small scene together in that, but so much fun!!! The whole show was a blast! Sig should revive it! Tom was so good in The Boy Detective Fails and I have hopes for the future of that wonderful show by Adam Gwon and Joe Meno. Whorehouse has such lovely scenes between us. It was fun to work on it with Tom and we did so much homework at home. (Not that kind of homework, Well, maybe, a little…)
Thomas- This is my favorite play with Sherri because we actually get to do scenework together (she’s a good partner) and I get to kiss her in the curtain call!
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays through October 7, 2012, in Signature’s MAX Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Tickets are available for purchase in person at the Signature Theatre Box Office, online, or by calling Ticketmaster at 703-573-7328.