“Why don’t you come up sometime and see me,” is an oft-misquoted line from the 1933 film “She Done Him, Wrong,” where Mae West utters that now famous line to Cary Grant. However, 85 years ago, it was considered a scandalous exchange for movie audiences to hear. Over her career, Mae West uttered many a sexually code-worded dialogue to the delight of her fans and audiences. No so, however, to the censors of the day.
Some of her funnier quotable quotes were: “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better” or “It’s not the men in your life that counts, it’s the life in your men.” Mae was Queen of the double entendre when it came to sexual situations.
She was a sensuous, sexy, bawdy, smart and funny performer who was an accomplished singer, actor, playwright, and screenwriter; and a genius at self-promotion; generating and capitalizing on sex-related controversy. Now, where have we heard and seen that type of behavior before? In the interest of full transparency, I saw Mae West perform in “Diamond Lil” at the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago, in 1948. Needless to say, I became an instant fan of the flamboyant and outrageous Miss West, and No, I’m not a relative of Dorian Gray, just a longtime theatre aficionado who is still passionate and still writes about theatre and film.
Which brings us to the highly entertaining Coyote StageWorks production of “Dirty Blonde”, written by Claudia Shear, from an idea conceived by Shear and James Lapine that is cleverly and crisply staged by professional director James Gruessing,Jr.
The story set in Los Angeles in 2015 centers around the memory of Mae West in a series of vignettes which flash backward, and forward again as we meet new characters who inhabit the world of Mae West. Setting the play in motion are two adoring fans of Mae, Jo (Bets Malone) and Charlie (Steve Gunderson) who meet at the gravesite of Mae West to pay homage to their idol.
The brilliant cast of three professional/Equity actors performs 18 characters on the stage of the Annenberg Theatre, located inside the Palm Springs Art Museum. Bets Malone renders a star turn as Mae West and as Jo, a young office temp worker, and aspiring actor who idolizes West. Ms. Malone flawlessly captures the personality, sass, and brassy traits of the legendary Mae West even to that sultry voice that seduced many men over the years.
Assisting in this transformational production is the wonderful Steve Gunderson as Charlie, a film archivist so addicted to Mae West that he is a walking, talking, Mae West fan that has a collection of lookalike clothes in his closet, and lots of studio pictures and posters, and playbills from Mae’s long career. The talented playwright/director/actor Gunderson plays nine different characters in “Dirty Blonde”: Harry, Timothy, Lt. Gregg, The Judge, Duchess, Kid Moreno, W.C. Fields, and a muscleman.
The incomparable Larry Raben, actor, director, and dancer plays seven parts: Man, Armando, Joe Frisco, Frank Wallace, Edward Eisnor, Ed Hearn, and a muscleman.
Mr. Raben is an acting company in himself. He does it all. Impeccable comedy timing and an instinct for inventiveness, – the works! Just four words sum up his performance. He’s simply the best.
Director Gruessing knows how to orchestrate the talents of his superb cast that result in a winning production. The technical components, led by Gruessing, also shine in their various disciplines. The Set Design by Josh Claybaugh is clean and sophisticated. The lighting Design by the redoubtable Ms. Moira Wilke, and the stunning costumes by Bonnie Nipar, along with Sound and Projection Design by David Engle compliment this stellar production by Producer Chuck Yates.
“Dirty Blonde” is a splendid evening of theatre that performs at CoyoteStageWorks, located inside the Palm Springs Art Museum, and runs through February 11th, 2018. For tickets go online to www.CoyoteStageWorks.org or call 760-325-4490.