note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Chris King
Go to the end of a dark winding road in Brewster, MA, off Rte. 6A on the Cape and get a taste of a bygone era when people still cracked up at vaudeville schtick and goddesses were larger than life on the silver screen. The Cape Rep is presenting Claudia Shear’s Dirty Blonde through October 19 and three very talented actors manage to evoke that time in the early twentieth century when a little tinsel and some quick step invented a magical parallel universe and Mae West that well-packed actress broke rules and hearts.
The cast, of course is too young to have experienced slapstick first hand. They may not even have seen its stepchildren on TV variety shows like Laugh In. So they can be forgiven for not living that saucy, corny, ba-dum-bump of that era.
Trish LaRose builds a convincing Mae out of a feisty floozie complete with that walk like a “stevedore with hips”, the throaty ‘just out of bed’ voice, and patented growl. She also simultaneously invents Jo, a convincing West acolyte, a fan who can’t get enough of her idol.
Ethan Paulini plays Jo’s opposite number, a nerd librarian who collects Westiana and manages to meet the aged star and share his tattered scrapbook. Paulini also manages to play an octagon of other roles, from muscleman to soused W. C. fields. Together, Paulini and LaRose manage to create a poignant almost love story cemented by a common obsession.
Dan Greenwood adds pizzazz to the production beginning as the piano player for young Mae’s early act and filling out the history as many of the men in Mae’s life.
All three players have fine pipes and put across the various tunes tunefully. Hopefully, by the time you see Dirty Blonde they will have gained confidence and a bit of a kick in the ass from their director Emily Swanson, so the big moments like Mae’s “coming out” are even bigger and bring us to our feet. Comedy is so about timing and we really need to feel the pace in this production that includes so many little beats and blackouts. Here is where vaudeville needs to rear its raucous head. Early in the show Mae asks the pianist to punctuate her bits with some musical thumps and bumps. We spend most of the show waiting for that cymbal hit.
This is a lean production, the beamy architecture of the theater doing heavy duty in evoking backstage and back room life. The glitzy passages don’t fare as well and Robin McLaughlin’s costumes, while clever, just fill the bill. [The theater really could use community $upport in order to do bigger and better.]
Christopher Ostrom’s lights do the job, but I was hungry for a bit more dazzle.
If you are on the Cape during the next few weeks or relish the ride, this can be a fun evening, an excellent capper to a day on the Cape. Be sure you GPS your way to the theater (508-896-1888) www.caperep.org. or leave extra time to find it. Chris King