Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dirty Blonde"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"Dirty Blonde"

by Claudia Shear
Conceived by Claudia Shear & James Lapine
Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Original Song ("Dirty Blonde") by Bob Stillman
Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design by Marc Plevinsky
Musical Director William McGarrahan
Choreography by Ilyse Robbins
Production Manager Skip Curtiss
Production Stage Manager Jason Rossman

Maryann Zschau

Larry Coen
Charlie/Harry/Jim Timony/Lt. Greg/Judge,Dutchess/Kid Moreno/WC Fields/Muscle Man

Will McGarrahan
Piano Player/Armando/Joe Frisco/Frank Wallace/Edward Eisner/Ed Hearn/Muscle Man

Why Mae West?

This carefully-crafted docu-comedy explains why fanatic fans wait for the chance to "do their Mae" and why impressionists and female impersonators can still make good money murmuring her classic quips in big gowns, big hats, and very big hair. The plot is split, showing a pair of diva devotees growing together as they delve into history, interrupted with scenes showing the woman herself inventing Herself. Will McGarrahan and Larry Coen get to play fifteen different men in Mae's life; Coen and Maryann Zschau get to play fans sharing memories. But as the real center of attention, when Maryann Zschau slips her artfully padded hips into the gown to die for, it's Mae West herself, live on stage, that stops the show.

The play begins with two rabid fans telling why they fell in love with what little survives in movies of this performer. She wasn't ahead of her time, but unique in her time, and perhaps her unashamed "bad woman" act helped loosen morality by example --- so this initial introduction to a world already forgetting her is in order. But once the scenes from life, and descriptions and comments from people who knew her on the way up begin, the electricity starts to build.

The one important thing this play demonstrates --- the reason many gay men deify her --- is that she very carefully built her personality, step by step. She used her flippant ad-libs as a vaudeville performer (like "accidentally" breaking a bra-strap in her bow), her revolving-door lovers, her fiercely independent ego, her quick and witty quips, and her blatantly suggestive lines on-stage and four-letter mouth off. She wrote plays for herself --- one called "Sex" about a "working girl" and another called "Drag", both of which were closed and got her tried and briefly jailed for obscenity. She made pots of money in real estate, she gave money and jobs to old friends and thrown-over lovers, and even at eighty she persisted in pursuing her stage career.

As the play admits, once the persona was created, she played it in every new play, every new picture, on-stage and off, though over time there was little performance underneath what had become an act. In that sense, even on Broadway or in movies, she remained a vaudeville turn giving a dwindling loyal audience precisely what they came to see and hear.

This is the kind of documentary movies and television can do, but watching it unfold live adds a vibrant perspective to it all. And the "sub-plot" in which a film historian who actually met and dined with Mae gets to talk about her with an aspiring actress and fellow devotee is equally engrossing. For a stunning transformation-scene Mae preparing for her first hit role on Broadway and Jo donning one of her dresses for a costume ball prepare behind a screen,seventy years separating her director on stage-right from her boyfriend stage-left --- but what turns around when the screen's taken away is a timeless icon, primping and murmuring, live on stage once more.

And the dialoge will lay you in the aisles while you applaud!


"Dirty Blonde (13 September - 12 October)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1(617) 437-71727

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide