Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mae West: Tulsa Has Sex

MAE WEST wrote "Sex" and brought it to Broadway in 1926 and, for the first time, sin became a domestic product. There have been several revivals of this stage play and now it's Tulsa turn to have "Sex." Here is a lengthy excerpt written by Oklahoma reporter Brad Morris, who interviewed the leading lady and the artistic director.
• • Tulsa drama critic Brad Morris writes: Artistic Director John Cruncleton has produced the play "Sex" once before in 2003, but this time he brings it to the Nightingale stage. . . . But Cruncleton maintains that the show is relevant, though with its share of quaintness. "It's a fairly pedestrian script in a lot of ways," he said. "It's melodrama and conventional in a lot of ways. But where it rises above that, I think, is in this characterization of the lead role which Mae West wrote for herself."
• • Mae West seems to have been a forerunner of the empowerment of women — — celebrities in particular — — and "Sex" bears that out. "It's sort of a distillation of her worldview, or the one she was tapping into. She was embodying one element of the times. It had a lot to do with female independence — — taking control of one's sexuality for one's own purposes," Cruncleton said. "That maneuver is smart. You see a lot of pop stars doing that."
• • Digging a little deeper into West and the production of her work here in town reveals some surprises -- perhaps first and foremost that she was writing plays about sex and drag queens, and quite a few ideas and issues that are a bit controversial even today, depending on to whom you're speaking. So many of us perceive West as the bombshell from a more apple-cheeked era -- one where her "Come up and see me sometime" catchphrase actually meant, "Come up and see me sometime," rather than, "Let's have sex."
• • Sara Wilemon, who plays Margy LaMont, the Mae West character, said that West was trying to bring out societal elements that we, even today, tend to try to ignore, hoping they'll go away, or at least not bother us. "She was bringing this sort of — — well, I don't want to say, 'seedy underbelly,' but ..." Wilemon trails off. "It's not conventional work. At the time, she was talking about drag queens and talking about prostitutes and sex and these things that weren't being put on stage. For me, I feel like that's what Nightingale does."
• • And she's right. Not that the Nightingale promotes prostitution. But the theater (and its resident troupe) does things a little differently. ...
• • Again, though, Cruncleton referred to Mae West's delivery and writing style. While she wrote about criminals and sexual escapades, she wasn't doing so in a way so as to flaunt it, nor was she defiantly shoving anything into her audiences' throats. "Depicting the underclass and the criminal world — — she's certainly not the first writer to do that on American stage, but she did it in a fun way," Cruncleton said. "It's social commentary, but it's got all the spice of comedy, and that makes it easier to go back to that than some of the more earnest work of the time."
• • The play was a self-conceived and self-powered star vehicle for West, and things in the 1920s were pretty much the same as they are today in terms of sex and sensationalism selling tickets. But in order for that to work, there has to be a formidable force in the driver's seat. In describing that force present in the Nightingale's production, Cruncleton has high praise for Wilemon.
• • Margy LaMont does a fan dance in "Sex" in Tulsa • •
• • "If you don't have an actress that is going to go out there and project a star persona, there's really no point in doing it," he said. "We happen to have the queen of Kansas City burlesque available to perform in this." Wilemon has performed burlesque for several years, perfecting a sexy-as-hell fan dance that ends up making an appearance in Sex. Fan dance? Burlesque? Sexy? Really? Yes, really. And one look at Wilemon reveals all you need to know about her, at least in terms of seeing the show: she's a bombshell in her own right, and there's really no other way to put it.
• • As if on cue, and to ensure that she is not perceived as a flighty exhibitionist with no real brains, Wilemon dropped some knowledge: "This show started reviving in the 1990s in New York, and drag queens were playing this lead role. And there was the language. It's not really a barrier, but when West was talking about 'straight,' it meant 'legit.' When a drag queen says it, it ends up being a wink at the audience."
• • And then there's the prostitution that keeps sneaking into West's work. "She kind of pokes at society, comparing prostitutes to these women who are marrying for money," Wilemon said. "And is there a difference between those two?" . . .
• • Source: Article: "Sexual Satisfaction: Early twentieth-century 'Sex' teaches modern lessons" written by Brad Morris for Urban Tulsa Weekly; published on 7 December 2011
• • WHERE: Nightingale Theatre, 1416 E. Fourth Street [just East of Peoria on 4th St.]. Tulsa, OK.; T. (918) 633-8666. No credit cards, so please bring cash.
• • WHEN: 8pm premiere on Friday, 9 December 2011 [runs until December 17th]
• • EMAIL: info (at) nightingaletheater (dot) com
• • Tell them you heard about it on the Mae West Blog.
• • In December, Let's Remember Beverly West [1898 — 1982] • •
• • Born in Brooklyn, NY was Mildred Katherine West [8 December 1898 — 12 March 1982].
• • Mae's kid sister never liked her birthname and so, upon launching a professional career, she became "Beverly Osborne." A talented performer in her own right, she is commemorated with great affection on her birthday.
• • In December 1975 • •
• • An intriguing interview with Mae West appeared in the December 1975 issue of Oui Magazine. Lawrence Grobel sat down with the icon in Hollywood.
• • On 8 December 2011 in NYC • •
• • "I'm No Angel" [1933], starring Mae West and featuring Cary Grant (as the leading man again), will be shown at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas, where it is an entry in its weekly Chelsea Classics. Notable NYC drag queen Hedda Lettuce will host the screening.
• • WHERE: Clearview Chelsea, 260 West 23rd Street, NYC; T. 212-777-3456.
• • WHEN: Thursday, 8 December 2011 at these showtimes: 7:00pm and 9:30pm.
• • Tell Hedda Lettuce you heard about it on the Mae West Blog.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: "I'd rather be looked over than overlooked."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • An article on a sexy actress in India mentioned Mae West.
• • According to reporter Pratish Narayana: Vidya Balan is terrific as Silk, who fires brazen zingers throughout “The Dirty Picture” with chutzpah that would have made 1930s Hollywood temptress Mae West proud.
• • Pratish Narayana explains: The Bollywood movie is ostensibly based on the life of “Silk” Smitha, a southern Indian femme fatale who gained notoriety in the late 1980s playing sexually charged roles in otherwise conservative films featuring virginal heroines. ...
• • Source: Review: "Bollywood’s ‘Dirty Picture’ Evokes Seductress Mae West" written by Pratish Narayana for Bloomberg News; published on 7 December 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2139th blog post. Unlike many blogs, which draw upon reprinted content from a newspaper or a magazine and/ or summaries, links, or photos, the mainstay of this blog is its fresh material focused on the life and career of Mae West, herself an American original.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • "Sex" • •
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