I can’t really review the Aurora Theatre Company’s production of Sex, a 1926 play by the delectable Mae West. One of my best friends is in the cast (he’s brilliant, by the way), so I have what they call in the ethics business a “conflict of interest.”
So, knowing my bias, here’s what I enjoyed about the production, directed by Tom Ross, the Aurora’s artistic director.
This is unlike any show I’ve seen in 10 years of going to the Aurora. First of all, it’s a musical (under the terrific musical direction of Billy Philadelphia, who tickles the ivories, and when pressed into acting service, looks sharp in an officer’s uniform). The second act of West’s play takes place in Trinidad, and it’s mostly an excuse to sing a lot of songs. Philadelpia has written three new songs to add to the Sex-y song list, and they’re terrific. The best one is “At the Cafe Port au Prince,” expertly performed by Danny Wolohan in an afro wig. It’s a funny, catchy number, and Philadelphia’s other new tunes, “Under the Red Light” and “Goin’ Down Under,” make me think that perhaps it’s time for Philadelphia to seriously consider writing a jazzy musical (and his wife, Meg Mackay, could star because it’s been too long since we’ve seen her onstage).
To be perfectly honest, Sex is a fairly lousy play. There are some very funny lines, and West wrote herself an interesting role in Margy LaMont, a Montreal prostitute who attempts to go straight and gets involved with a naive society boy. But the dialogue is stiff and dated, and as for plot, well, nothing really kicks in until Act 3 when the past and present clash in an amusing way.
What makes Sex interesting now is, of course, West herself. She wrote this piece before she had fully developed her trademark Mae West persona, so we get her intelligence, humor and strength with less of the robotic waxwork mechanisms she later created for herself.
Ross’ supporting ensemble — Robert Brewer, Steve Irish, Craig Jessup, Maureen McVerry, Kristin Stokes, Philadelphia and Wolohan — does a whole lot to keep the play from dragging (in lesser hands, boy would it drag). But the star here is Delia MacDougall as Margy.
MacDougall has always been a smart, reliable actor, and she knows that simply doing a Mae West impersonation for 2 1/2 hours isn’t going to cut it. So we get glimpses of Mae — especially when MacDougall struts and sings “Sweet Man” and “Shake That Thing” (a great ensemble number) — but what we really get is Margy, a worldly broad desperate to make something of her life. She doesn’t exactly have a heart of gold, but she has a brain and good instincts. And perhaps most happily of all, she has a raging libido, and she owns it. Could this be where the expression “You go, girl!” comes from?
MacDougall is marvelous (and she looks fantastic in Cassandra Carpenter’s ’20s dresses). Her performance alone should make you eager to dive headlong into Sex.
For information about Sex, visit www.auroratheatre.org.
Here’s a trailer for West’s movie I’m No Angel from 1933 with Cary Grant.