Monday, April 11, 2011
Dirty Blonde (BoHo Theatre)
"Dirty Blonde," from a strictly dramaturgical standpoint, is a solid play, but when you add the cast of BoHo Theatre's production to the mix- hot damn, do things get good! Before seeing the show, I knew very little about Mae West except that she was exceedingly clever and kind of a hooch, so I assumed "Dirty Blonde" would be a one-dimensional "sexy funny" play about a "sexy funny" woman. Well, I feel like an asshole, because I was wrong.
"Dirty Blonde" is half biography of Mae West, a telling of how her rapier wit and loose morals secured her place as a pop culture icon, and half fictitious tale of how two Mae West devotees find their way to each other. For West-neophytes there's just enough history to keep you up to speed, and for West-aficionados the show hits her high points without dragging the show down with exposition. Then you've got a slow-burning relationship story that gets odder and odder, but which is played with such sincerity that it doesn't even seem all that weird. (And trust me, it's pretty weird.)
There's a cast of three actors that portray about a dozen roles between them. They sing, dance, do accents, play piano, wrestle, and more. Not only are they a talented bunch, but they're incredibly likable. (I just read over a review I did of another BoHo production and I wrote that they were very likable, too. Props to BoHo for consistently finding performers that I like- I should let them start setting up dates for me.) This is important because the warmth and believability of the actors keep the show from veering into campy bio-drama, and keep it as a sincere piece of Theatre. (I capitalized the "T" because Theatre is important!)
Nicholas Bailey masterfully tackled a broad range of character roles, serving as somewhat of a narrator for the biographical parts of the show. He also served as the show's resident ivory tickler, but his standout role was probably as Ed Hearn, Mae West's flamboyant pal. David Tibble also skillfully handled a number of old-timey character parts, but he really shined as Charlie, one of the show's awkward protagonists. The dorky sweetness of Charlie played a nice contrast to his broader ensemble roles. Anne Sheridan Smith, who split her time as Mae West and Jo, the show's other protagonist, was really quite wonderful. As Jo she was sweet yet plucky, but then as Mae she'd immediately snap to brassy, sharp and vulgar. You liked both characters for different reasons, yet there was a commonality that the two shared that made you understand why Jo was such a Mae West fan.
The show was 100 minutes without an intermission. The show moved fast enough that it really didn't need it, but, well, I wouldn't have objected had there been one.