Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mae West: "Sex" Till Nov. 21

A revival of "Sex" by MAE WEST plays through 21 November 2009 at North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago. Mae wrote the play in 1926 and starred in it as the frisky and unapologetic prostitute Margy LaMont.
• • Drama critic K.D. Hopkins "got lost in the action." Let's enjoy the entire review, shall we?
• • K.D. Hopkins writes: Okay, not quite a century but close enough since 1926 when Mae West wrote, produced, and starred in “Sex” on Broadway. She was a woman ahead of the curve and the Prologue Theatre Company’s production is a compelling tribute.
• • I have been privileged to view another of director Margo Gray’s productions, “The Wonder-A Woman Keeps A Secret,” earlier this year at the Heartland Studio. I recall her agility with the small set and the remarkable cast.
• • This staging of “Sex” takes place at the North Lakeside Cultural Center (6219 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago) and it is in my opinion a great setting. The Center is a mansion that was occupied at the same time in which the play is set.
• • The cast inhabits the era like apparitions made flesh. The dialog and slang of the 1920’s has the inherent possibility of sounding dated or stilted but that is not the case with the talented cast.
• • This is the tale of Margy LaMont who is a good-time girl working her way to the top in Montreal’s red light district in 1926. Jes Bedwinek plays Margy with a razor-tough edge.
• • Ms. Bedwinek has a beautiful face that resembles a vintage cameo and like the rest of the cast has the body carriage of the time dictated by fashion and the stars such as Mae West, Gloria Swanson, and a young Cary Grant.
• • Margy takes no guff from her smarmy business manager Rocky who is played with diabolical glee by Nathan Pease. “Sex” is both dramatic and funny as was its writer. The voice of Ms. West is heard in every line uttered. Her unfiltered view of proper society and the mores of the age still translate in the 21st century.
• • The play pulls no punches in pointing out both the hypocrisy and duality projected onto women when it comes to sex. The character of Clara Stanton is a society lady who comes to Montreal looking for good times on the down low.
• • Anne Sheridan Smith plays Mrs. Stanton with both patrician nobility and the necessary underbelly. Margy comes to Clara’s rescue and is rewarded by having to ditch Montreal and follow the fleet. What goes around comes around in a comical and yet riveting final act.
• • Two of my favorite local actors are in this production. Sean Patrick Ward as Jimmy Stanton and Christopher Chamblee as Lt. Gregg. I enjoyed them immensely in the aforementioned “Wonder” production. They bring the same charisma and embodiment of their characters to “Sex.”
• • Mr. Ward seems to have stepped directly from a movie screen channeling Richard Burton. Mr. Chamblee as the charming Australian lieutenant can break your heart with his portrayal of unrequited and true love for Margy LaMont.
• • Rebecca L. Mauldin is another standout as the doomed Agnes. She is all nerves, sadness, and regret as the bad girl who longs for her family and a home.
• • DeRante Parker is quite funny and touching in several roles but primarily as Condez the bartender who serves as emcee leading the audience to different rooms in the house for each act.
• • The choice of this particular mansion for the play was brilliant. The house is a character as much as the actors. Some of this is due to brilliant set design by Carrie Hardin. The apartment shared by Margy and Rocky is a slightly tatty flop perfect for the era and the profession.
• • The Cultural Center has the dark wood, stained glass, and built-in nooks that put the viewer in the 1920’s. The fireplace is a funny motif in the final act when the characters came in from outside.
• • Leaves blew in from Sheridan Road and the actors were really windswept a bit. I got lost in the action. That should be the intention of any production.
• • This was not a classic morality tale in the Jazz Age. West wrote from a perspective that has a woman a right to not be ashamed of her sexuality. That shook the rafters during the Jazz Age. West and most of the cast were arrested on vice and morals charges even though the play was a smash hit.
• • Throughout the parlor and in the upstairs lounge, there are portraits by Ernest J. Belloq of Storyville prostitutes, as well as some history of the play and Mae West. The play is not set in Storyville, which is the old red light district of New Orleans, but the portraits add to the ambiance of “Sex.”
• • The inimitable Mae West was a trailblazer for women in the arts and in society. Go see this unique production.
• • “Sex” runs Thursday through Saturday at 8:00pm until November 21, 2009.
— — Source: — —
• • Theatre Review: Almost a Century of 'Sex'
• • BY: K.D. Hopkins
• • Published by: The Urban Coaster — —
• • Published on: 18 November 2009

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