The story opens with a live radio broadcast promoting a concert. As a favor to her best friend Naomi's "streetkid" daughter Angeline, celebrity talkshow host Mandy Rudcross boosts Angeline's band with a little extra media exposure. The opening number is "Take Me For A Drive, Cheri", an anthem to celebrate the good old days -- cheap thrills, greedy bosses and the salubrious effects of the automobile experienced as a love object.
But despite the superficial appearance of success, Angeline is actually bottoming out in her attempt to gain artistic credibility. Though she has been writing songs, singing backup, and having sex with the band members for several months and generally expends far too much energy making herself attractive to them, her chances for acceptance as an equal appear, if anything, even bleaker than the average complete stranger's. With a modus operandi straight out of the Hollywood babydoll cliché, her intentions don't play out in real life the way they do on television, and Angeline finds herself alternately infantile and infantilized out of serious consideration. Not surprisingly, she is pregnant.
Harry Gunn, the soundman, is the most recent to come courting. Compared to the rest of the dudes on the scene, Harry is a prince. Like them, he takes advantage of this girl's generalized suck-up form of being, but -- perhaps merely because he is more verbally articulate than the others -- he also takes a moment to explain how a woman in her position would do better to discard all the elements of her personality and start from scratch rather than try to work within the intricate web of misconceptions she has contrived. In his song "Angeline" he sings, "Go ahead, fall apart, baby. It's the only way you know how to turn."
Angeline is a daddy's girl, and the daddy in question is Buffalo Jones, doing 35 years without parole for getting caught putting the wrong analgesic up his nose and helping a police informant to do the same. In the real world, Buffalo was a charming lightweight. In prison, he is a powerful inmate's toady, and it is only a matter of time before something horrendous befalls him. He has decided to go out in a blaze of glory -- to break out of prison and ultimately refuse to be taken alive. In "Sherlock Jones", we see Buffalo is a slob, not a criminal, with some high-minded ideas about how to convert his victimization into martyrdom for the cause. However the years in the penitentiary have done little except twist his perception and reasoning.
Despite (or perhaps because of) bold idealism concerning the large issue of himself and what he must do, he easily rationalizes using his daughter to help him break out of prison and it doesn't even occur to him that Angeline has a right to know the truth about the seriousness of her actions. In ignorance and loyalty, Angeline has been running his messages from the inside, and has probably set the whole thing up.
Angeline's mother Naomi Jones, lost her license to practice medicine. Though her medical career failed through a moral and political conundrum, she has made peace with that aspect of the past. As she sees it, her real mistake was in her choice of Buffalo Jones as the father of her children. And it was probably also her fatal flaw that she loved the man, really loved him, and that meant there was never any question. She would stay with him through the end of time, if she could, and never let him let go of her own accord.
Now Naomi owns and operates Griselda's Fat Farm of Studio Art, a family day care center "cum design studio" manufacturing items in what Naomi humorously refers to as "shelter style", "because a girl's got to look good, even when she's on the street."
The Homeless Girls, a women's chorus, thrive through the grace of the studio.
Priests, politicians, and talkshow hosts have long kept the Fat Farm in their sights as a reliable source of public debate. A meager living is in peril because the law refuses to recognize the women, infants, children, craftsmen and artisans (wiccans) of the studio as independent buyers and sellers of services. Bureaucratic agencies have descended to demand Naomi pay all duties incumbent upon employers. Naomi is living in the extreme, and she is ready for anything.
Harry Gunn's asssociation with the nightclub where he met Angeline has been work-study student intern stuff. By the time he gets together with Angeline, he is already well on his way toward an advanced degree and has his future in technical solid state physics mapped-out, far away from here. Dropping in on Angeline and Naomi and the rest of the characters at Griselda's is a lark for him, a window through which he can safely observe the follies of a lower, more careless class of human. Secure in the knowledge that his career will take him away before they've had a chance to get their hooks into him, Harry is free to muck about in the human stew to his heart's content, no strings attached.
The one true and honest kernal Harry can detect in Angeline's psyche seems to be her desire to be a mother. Even though she doesn't know which of her lovers has conceived the child in her womb and she knows it might be sensible to have an abortion, still she can't deny she wants the child. Seeing what it is like to be a mother at Griselda's Fat Farm of Studio Art, Harry believes it is possible for Angeline to be faithful to this simple fact about herself. He sees in motherhood at the Fat Farm Angline's opportunity to get a fresh start in life. Abandoning her, nevertheless he sees her safely installed back at the Fat Farm before he leaves.
By the time Angeline met Harry, she had already come to realize she had to stop sleeping around. The fearful irony is that if she hadn't taken the chance, at least one time more, she wouldn't have got to know him, or heard his advice, or known his kindness, or been able to use him as a window into a saner form of being. In "It Had To Be You", she laments the lateness of her coming to notice Harry. Her heart tells her they were meant to be together forever, yet his departure was always a condition of their relationship.
On their final evening together, Harry gives Angeline an expensive bracelet, telling her that if she gets in trouble, she should always be able to get at least $800 for it. Offering the gift in this rather mercantile way is a form of insulation to protect Harry from the knowledge that he has given his heart. The couple dines on the waterfront where a wedding reception has just taken place. When the bridal party departs, the one who caught the bridal bouquet forgets to take the flowers. Angeline, upset by this symbolic betrayal, histrionic to the hilt, enacts a ritual to defy their abandonment. She throws the bouquet into the moonlit sea. As the lovers' final evening together wanes, the bouquet drifts with the tide, farther and farther out to sea.
Nine months later . . ..
Detective Reverend (D.R.) Jones,a police chaplain involved in the original conviction of Buffalo Jones and long obsessed with love for Naomi, lurks around the Fat Farm at five a.m. The studio has been shut down, and today Naomi must appear before a judge to regain her right to do business. Though D.R. has lost his status as a friend of the household through a misunderstanding that involved some negative media exposure, he hounds her daily for an audience and today Naomi has agreed to see him. She conducts the interview from the safety of her front porch, surrounded by Homeless Girls, while she casually performs a minor cosmetic surgery on herself. Naomi is too fond of verbal parrying with the police chaplain, and Angeline, sensing a dangerous quarrel could develop, cuts the meeting short by insisting her mother go inside.
Left alone outside, D.R. curses his obsession in a monologue while a men's chorus, The Lost Boys, urgently try to catch glimpses of the Homeless Girls, some of whom are performing their morning ablutions in the garden with the hose. The priest assails The Lost Boys for their wild sexual energy, even as he struggles to understand his own.
As a close friend of the family, Mandy Rudcross continues to conduct her ritual bath and to take massages and fittings with the tailors at the Fat Farm before going to work each day. When she arrives at the studio before dawn, she is is annoyed to find D.R. hanging around.
Mandy decides to get the police chaplain out of the way. When D.R. fails to take her up on a bet contrived to absent him for awhile, she doesn't hesitate to provoke a brawl. Where Mandy goes, the press is never far behind, and so we watch as Mandy uses natural antagonism as a positive advantage. Angeline takes the situation in hand when the police arrive and demonstrates that she is quite capable of managing the press, also -- something Naomi's extremism always prevented. Once again Angeline orders her mother's silence, and Naomi sees that she has been replaced at the helm by an abler leader.
Griselda's is unquestionably the seat of familial love. Being in relationships with the artisans of the studio, the children of the day care and their mothers and fathers, among the Homeless Girls and the Lost Boys, all the life going on in a place like Griselda's can be hugely rewarding to the human being in general, but especially so to the cuddlesome girl, whose stream of desire and action instinctively lead her to babies for no reason more complex than the longing for a way in this world merely to love and be loved.
We see the women in their bathing rituals performing the acts of centeredness practiced at the Fat Farm. To Naomi, these rituals proved invaluable for coping with years of celibacy during her husband's incarceration, and now she teaches the Homeless Girls and others at the studio to develop their capacity for chastity. Circumnavigating the point that sexual continence is the beginning of self respect (not to mention hygiene), Naomi merely promises "there's no head like godhead" and the Homeless Girls fall in with the program like so many little lambs -- satisfied, intact, and compellingly attractive to males.
Naomi regains the right to conduct business, and plans a party to celebrate the reopening of the Fat Farm.
Naomi has been questioned by the police about her husband's escape from prison, but she knew nothing about it and has neither seen nor heard from him until he telephones and begs to see her. He tells her he knows he must die.
Naomi tells Buffalo about the party, suggesting that if one more or less guest makes an appearance, it probably won't make any difference.
We see the weight of the past and habitual indulgence in this passion play dragging at Naomi. In "One Thin Dime" she sings with Buffalo a duet: "Way back in time, you were always on my mind. I could find a thousand reasons back then to take a chance that I might see you again." In her heart, Buffalo has never been supplanted.
Far away, on a beach in Mississippi, Harry is not happy. He sings "Gulfport" when a bunch of roses rolled up in stormwrack releases to his understanding the painful truth of what he really values in the world.
In both these couplings, love can never die. Far removed in space and time, nevertheless love's voice has ways to make itself understood.. In "Give In To It," the climax of Act 2, we have the block party, like a Renaissance fair. There is a magical tent set back in the scene where aromatheraphy and massage offer the experience of deep relief sacred to the human. In some cases, orgasm would not be inconsistent with the full treatment. Is this "prostitution" or a sacred act? Facials and full body herb packs, "living" foods, and the buying and selling of contracts for domestic service, couturiere, renovation, restoration, etc. abound at the party as Griselda's fetes its customers and gears up for action.
Buffalo shows up, and Naomi allows him to stay the night. Hoping for the impossible, the mood established in the garden in "Give In To It" demonstrates that in small, isolated ways, it is indeed possible to claim, "Heaven is a place called earth," dependent mainly on what we conceive (can see).
Questions soon replace blind hope. In "Boney" we see the consequences of a renegade male's involvement with his children. In this song, Family Jules ‚ a frightful criminal who for some unbelievable reason has never failed to float the raft of bullshit he calls a life ‚ is now being encouraged to spend time with his children as part of his being forced to pay child support. He takes his young child out for the afternoon and explains his world view while robbing and knifing a pedestrian.
Meanwhile, Naomi discovers how Buffalo's carelessness may finally have disastrous consequences, possibly even destroying lives in generations unborn: it appears certain her grandchild will be deprived of its mother because Angeline unwisely trusted her father and inadvertently colluded in Buffalo's prison break. Naomi immediately sees, as Angeline must agree, that this crime is precisely the type that will not escape punishment.
At last Angeline understands the extent of damage caused by her willingness to be taken in. In "Bad Dream on Easy Street", exhaustion has brought the fighting to a lull. When Naomi sings, "Make yourself the tool of a man who is but a boy," she is talking about her own sin, having taken a child for a husband and let him run roughshod over all their lives. She sees in her daughter's error the potential for perpetuation in future generations of her own mistakes and shortcomings.
The children must be put to bed. Angeline is dead on her feet.
As Angeline prepares to turn herself in to the police the next morning, Naomi says that the whole mess is her fault because she could never say no to Buffalo. She says she herself will take the blame so Angeline can be a mother to her child.
Angeline dismisses the idea. "You'd never stand up to an interrogation by the police. You can't even remember what you said ten minutes ago. How do you expect to keep an elaborate lie spinning for two or three hours?"
"I do know how to fix this. I'm going with him. I'll leave a note."
"You're going with him. Will you get real!"
Sirens and alarms keep going off in the night. Nerves fray.
But this is one fall Naomi does know how to take. She bids goodnight to the children, calming them with humorous chat, then retires to her room where she lights seventy-two candles, and sits down at her desk to write a confession. When she "drops off", the candles suddenly go out.
Word reaches Angeline in the wee hours of the morning that Buffalo has been stabbed to death. It is then that she discovers her mother's body.
The song "Naomi" is Angeline's lamentation for the loss of her parents, a bitter expression of the rage -- and relief -- she feels at becoming an orphan with the opportunity for release from the past, now thrust upon her.
In "Red River Valley", Harry returns to Angeline's side.