Here is the latest revival of Mae West's tantalizing play SEX in the midwest -- Sex without the X, by 21st century standards. :-D
Big 'Sex' show plays small Creole stage (Icarus Falling)
• Theater By Mike Hughes | Lansing State Journal
Like most writers or actors, Mae West didn't want to be ignored. That was never a problem for "Sex," her show that is being revived locally in Michigan.
As soon as it opened in 1926, it drew comment.
It was "feeble and disjointed," the New York Times said.
It was a "disgrace," the New Yorker said.
Walter Winchell called it "a vulgar affair ... amateurish in script and cast."
The Daily Mirror, a Hearst paper, was less mellow. This was, it said, "a monstrosity plucked from the garbage can, destined for the sewer."
Life was different, back in '26.
"It's actually a sweet show, a very nice show" said Lamont Clegg, who's directing the Icarus Falling production, which opens Oct. 20.
"It looked at the social mores of the time," said Jeff Croff, the Icarus Falling artistic director. "They shut it down for indecency; now people wouldn't raise an eyebrow."
Even back then, people weren't sure. The first attempt to close "Sex" failed; officials barely missed getting the required three-fourths vote of a citizens' panel.
Celebrities - including authors Robert Benchley and Zora Neale Hurston - wrote favorably about "Sex." Some papers had second reviews, reversing their verdicts.
After making a fortune on the show, West was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in jail. "This will be the making of me," she said.
That would take a while. Five years later, nearing 40, West began a string of movies in which she often wrote her own lines, oozing sexual references
She died in 1980 at 87, having outlived the era she mocked. "Mae West really pushed the boundaries," Croff said.
Icarus tackles her show in a change-of-pace season.
In previous years, Icarus won praise and awards for intense, intimate dramas. "We hadn't really focused on comedies," Croff said. "And we didn't have enough strong roles for women."
Then he spotted "Sex" and decided it would be a good show - and a good theme for the season. Sex is also a theme in the ancient Greek "Truculentus" (in February) and the modern Elaine May comedy "Adult Entertainment" (in May).
In the 1920s, West was a modestly successful playwright and vaudeville performer, big and buxom and brassy.
She faced rigid rules, Croff said. "They weren't allowed to show prostitutes in America. They could if it was set in another country."
West toyed with that in "Sex." Her central character, Margy Lamont (Sara Frank), is a Montreal prostitute; she mixes with rich people, then heads to Trinidad.
There's a breezy cynicism to Margy, her pimp (Daryl Thompson) and her friend (Laura Croff). "You see them as fairly sharp-tongued," Clegg said, "but underneath it are very human characters."
There's also a complication: Like others from this era, "Sex" has lots of characters. "It does tend to fill up the stage," Croff said.
That's a 12-by-16-foot stage, at one end of Creole Gallery, which seats 90-100 people. Clegg [a theater veteran who has taken over as Boars Head's education director] had to figure out how to squeeze an epic show into an intimate space.
"This show has 22 characters," he said. "I eliminated one, but you still hear him yelling offstage." Otherwise, actors switch places quickly. Except for the leads, most people fill two or three roles. It's a brash undertaking. No one said it would be easy to perform "Sex" on an Old Town stage.
(Sources: "Mae West: An Icon in Black and White," Oxford Press, 2001; "Mae West," William Morrow and Company, 1982; "The Ultimate Encyclopedia of the Movies," Carlton, 1995.)
• "Sex," an Icarus Falling production
• Performances: now 8 p.m. Oct. 20, Oct. 22 and Oct. 28-29
• Onstage: Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St.; a talk-back discussion of censorship follows the opener.
• $10, at the door; info: tickets (at) icarusfalling.com.
Published: October 13, 2005
Printed: Lansing State Journal
By Mike Hughes