note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Maryann Zschau … Jo, Mae
Larry Coen … Charlie/Harry, Jim Timony, Lt. Greg, Judge, Dutchess, Kid Moreno, W. C. Fields, Muscle Man
Will McGarrahan…..Piano Player, Armando, Joe Frisco, Frank Wallace, Edward Eisner, Ed Hearn, Muscle Man
Claudia Shear’s DIRTY BLONDE is not a great play, but it’s a good piece of theatre; with all of its turns and gimmicks and its valentine to stardom and showbiz, its proper place is and always will be on a stage (a film or television adaptation would only rob it of its immediacy; its zing). I may not urge you to run, as usual, to the Lyric’s box office --- its BLONDE is no LEND ME A TENOR --- but if you do walk quickly over there; you’ll still have fun with this baby.
Ms. Shear spins a contemporary tale of two lonely New Yorkers --- Jo and Charlie --- who gain confidence in themselves through their identification with actress/sex symbol Mae West (1892-1980); their growing friendship is placed alongside scenes from the life of the great Mae herself as she goes from honky tonk to Broadway to Hollywood to age-defying decline. When the two storylines overlap --- Charlie (in flashback) meeting his near-mummified idol and, in a clever bit of pure theatre, Jo and Mae becoming one --- DIRTY BLONDE is funny, riveting stuff; when they go their separate ways, Jo/Charlie and Miss West alternate as pages bound together as one book (the lighting changes seem to whisper, “Meanwhile….”). But throughout her play, Ms. Shear reveals a marvelous ear not only for Miss West’s drawl and bawdiness --- she captures both the lady’s humor and her own self-worship --- but also in her wry, nostalgic monologues for Jo and Charlie, though I secretly hoped that “W. C. Fields” would be the one to walk off into the sunset with Jo instead of…well, you’ll see.
The Lyric’s own Maryann Zschau plays Jo and Mae. This is my first encounter with Ms. Zschau as an actress (I missed her award-winning performance in Lyric’s SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, among others); here, she’s a sunny, spunky Jo --- very much the extrovert --- and is more convincing as the older Mae than the up-and-coming one; her young Mae already has the mannerisms pretty much in place --- thus, we’re robbed of watching the transformation of a Brooklyn hootch dancer into a legend. Director Spiro Veloudos and actor Larry Coen were wise not to stamp “LOSER” all over Charlie --- Mr. Coen’s shy librarian with a secret fetish emerges all the more winning by not asking for our sympathy or being made to seem odder than he is. Mr. Coen and Will McGarrahan --- the third member of the company --- play various men in Mae’s life (with various life in Mae’s men) --- Mr. McGarrahan’s most memorable turn being one Edward Eisner, the elegant ex-drag queen who made Mae West … into what she became (buh-dump-BUMP!).
With Mae West now joining Patsy Cline (Stoneham Theatre) and Katharine Hepburn (A.R.T.) and soon to be followed by Peggy Lee (Stoneham Theatre) and the return of Dame Edna, our fall season could very well be dubbed the Year of the (Imitated) Woman.