Review: SEX Sells the Bawdy Humor of Boundary-Breaking Blonde Bombshell Mae West
The legendary career of Mae West, actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol, began in 1911 and ultimately spanned seven decades. Her play SEX debuted on Broadway in 1926, which she wrote, directed, produced, and starred in as Margy LaMont, an entrepreneur as well as a prostitute, who is the most successful sex worker in Montreal. The show was a box-office hit and was busted for obscenity, causing West to serve eight days in jail. Of course, Mae West was definitely a woman who played by her own rules in all aspects of her life. She dismissed barriers, boundaries, fears, judgments and prejudices and always believed women needed to be in charge of their own lives.
Her play SEX was both outrageous and pornographic in 1926, full of playfulness and lots of camp as well as topical storytelling about the battle of the sexes. As the show's director Sirena Irwin shares, "SEX is a story of survival, imprisonment, fear, revenge, transformation, freedom, and love. It is a feminist perspective from nearly 100 years ago that invites us to reflect on where we've progressed and where we've stagnated. Mae West, in her wisdom, tried to open minds with humor and heart."
West was the original Margy LaMont, a blonde bombshell "lady of the hour," portrayed by Andrea Hutchman in the Buzzworks Theater Company production at the Hudson Theatre.She channels the sex goddess to a tea, flouncing around in lingerie and feathers, speaking with a throaty drawl that attracted men to her like moths to a flame. LaMont is based in Montreal, a city that becomes too hot for her when society matron Clara Stanton (Susan Edwards Martin) "crosses the tracks" and then attempts to frame Margy for a crime she did not commit. To avoid jail time, Margy heads for the Caribbean, and later for a swank enclave in New York where she entertains audiences in her own innimitable way. Hutchman has a lot of fun with the role, keeping it just campy enough to be funny without making fun of West's stage persona.
Naturally she acquires lovers along the way, including Gregg (Wayne Wilderson), an English naval officer who has some entrepreneurial ideas of his own; and Jimmy (Ryan Phillips), a younger man who will be the heir to a fabulous fortune, who is smitten with her. Between the police, criminals, hypocritical high-society types, and two men who really love her, Margy has her arms full. Not to mention her bed, of course.
Part of the fun of this production is the supporting cast, all of whom play several characters of both sexes with great comic flare. Perry Brown's booming voice allows him to be a forceful presence as Dawson, Cpt. Carter, and Robert Stanton. David Errigo is a riot as Marie, the Stanton's French maid, a Ricky Ricardo-type Cuban dancer who wowed the audience with his athletic dance moves, as well as several other characters in the play. Lowam Eyasu portrays Agnes, a poor streetwalker befriended by Margy as well as one of the Carmen Miranda type Caribbean entertainers. Davey Johnson, a former professional baseball player and manager, portrays Rocky Waldron, one of Margy's boy toys, among other roles. Kandace Lindsey portrays Red and a Club Performer whose wondrous voice and sexy style light up each nightclub scene. Carla Valentine flaunts her curves in the Caribbean scenes, then hides them (as best she can) as Jones, a sailor hot to trot with Margy, who won't give him the time of day.
Sure, the style in which SEX is presented by Buzzworks, a 26-year-old company, is way over-the-top to modern audiences, but totally represents the type of outrageous behavior so rampant in speakeasys in 1926 when it was first produced. Trust me, this SEX sells because audiences are still interested in the subject. It is also lots of fun to watch, much like the show's playwright. And after all, sometimes sex is the answer. Sometimes, it's the question. But what will Margy do when her fun and games lead to her falling in love? Can she ever settle down with just one man occupying her bed for the rest of her life? See SEX to find out!
SEX, a comedy by Mae West, the woman who knew the subject best, is directed by Sirena Irwin, and produced for Buzzworks by Jocelyn O'Keefe and Kevin Comartin. Performances continue at the Hudson Theatre Main Stage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038 on Fri. & Sat. at 8:00pm, Sun. at 7:00pm through Sunday, June 17. Tickets are $30 and may be ordered online at https://dime.io/events/ buzzworks-sex or purchased at the Hudson box office.
Photo credit: Rich Hutchman