THE STORY OPENS with an explanation of how the Chicken Ranch, in a town called Gilbert, got its name and the winking acknowledgement that "if you grew up anywhere in Texas, you knew from an early age they were selling something out there other than pullets". We are introduced to Miss Mona, the proprietor of the Chicken Ranch and to her "girls", who sing for the benefit of newcomers, Angel and Shy, the rules of the house. Miss Mona displays a surprisingly conservative taste ("please don't show me no tattoos, no hearts and flowers on your thigh, it's downright tacky") for someone in her position and also demonstrates a tender side as she counsels a young girl who has run away from an abusive father ("girl, you're a woman, keep your head up high"). Just as we get comfortable with the situation at the Chicken Ranch the scene shifts to the Watchdog TV studio, the spiritual home of Melvin P Thorpe and his Dogettes. He shines his self-righteous Spotlight on Gilbert and reveals to the world what they already know ("Texas has a whorehouse in it"). And so the ball of hypocrisy starts rolling.
A neat counterpoint to the hypocrisy of Thorpe is the refreshing openness of Jewel, the maid in the Chicken Ranch. She describes to the girls her "twenty four hours of loving" on her day off with her boyfriend ("what I been watchin' you girls sell all week, well your mama's gonna give it away tonight"). But this lighter mood is punctured by Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd, who has been told of Watchdog's revelations on TV. Since the Sheriff has stuck his "neck out from hell to Georgia" protecting Miss Mona in return for campaign contributions and some payment in kind, one suspects, his concern that the "public don't understand politics, no better than pigs understand kissing", leads to an over-enthusiastic request to Melvin P. Thorpe to leave town. And so the lines in the sand are drawn and there can only be one outcome. The Sheriff's outburst is captured on camera and replayed to his fellow Texans, who wrestle with their collective conscience and lose, siding with Melvin against Miss Mona, the Sheriff and Miss Mona's girls.
One Texan, whose daydreaming has been inspired by the unorthodox behaviour of Miss Mona and who, we suspect, secretly admires her ("at least she ain't on her feet all day"), is Doatsy Mae, the waitress from the Texas Twinkle Cafe. Her beautiful song "Frederick of Hollywood", muses on what might have been and forces us all to reflect on what fun we could have had if we weren't "plain as grey, respectable". The action then cuts to a commentary on the local football team's match (the Aggie Boys), their victory and the local senator's promise that they can visit the Chicken Ranch as a reward. They sing the "Aggie Song" as they relish the prospect of their visit and draw some comparisons between their activities on and off the football field. Later that night Melvin P.Thorpe and his camera crew turn up at the Chicken Ranch to find the Aggies, the Senator, the Sherriff and the "girls" doing what comes naturally. And so Act One ends on a riotous note.
ACT TWO opens up with a continuation of the previous scene but with the Senator claiming he was doped and forced to participate in his nocturnal affairs by Communists. The Governor of Texas, sensing a photo opportunity, appears and despite his initial "Sidestep" of the questions asked him by reporters is eventually forced to admit that "someone, somewhere, will have to close her down". The Sheriff, besieged by phone calls from the good people of Gilbert, egged on by the Mayor, newspaper proprietor and local businessmen ("but nobody's buying nothing. People just standin around in clumps, wringing their hands and talkin about this damned mess") and finally ordered by the Governor, faces up to calling Mona and gives her the bad news.
The Sheriff, in his only song, "She's a good old girl" gives us a glimpse of his feelings for Mona but also reveals that they have always remained unsaid ("there's lots of things I could have told her I suppose"). He calls Mona on the telephone and Mona and the girls pack up to leave, sharing their fears for the future and trying to convince each other that things will be "fine and dandy, lord it's like a hard candy Christmas". The Sheriff visits Mona, uncertain of what to say. He is clearly upset but perhaps more by his failure to control events in his town than for any sentimental reasons. He does not remember the significance of an event many years before, that he and Mona both shared and Mona comes to realise, with weary resignation that, like many years before, she is on her own. In the very poignant" Bus from Amarillo" Mona reveals how she passed up a chance for spiritual freedom many years before and reflects, sadly, "how a plan just disappears, how the days can turn to weeks and how the weeks can turn to years". In other words, for Mona, as for Doatsy Mae and many others, life has passed her by.