Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Oct. 4, 2002
Dirty Blonde: Go, West!
Zachary Scott Theatre Center
Whisenhunt Arena Stage,
through November 3
Running Time: 1 hr, 45 min
When live theatre works, there's no other entertainment like it. With film, we are always aware of being manipulated, that what we're watching isn't real, that it's all been carefully constructed and arranged. But with theatre, while it may have been carefully arranged, we're still looking at live people, with beating hearts and blood flowing through their veins, moving through time and space. Present.
This Equity production of Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center does not always work, but when it does it embodies everything truly amazing about theatre. Michael Raiford's set consists of two runways that jut out into the space, with houselights, both decorative and practical, adorning the walls. On the floor, surrounded by a film reel, there's a star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in the center of the star is the name Mae West. The surroundings dictate high expectations -- and they are met. The story revolves around two Mae West fans, Jo and Charlie, who meet at her tomb. Charlie is a film librarian who actually knew Mae, and Jo becomes infatuated with him because of his acquaintance. Through the course of the play, the stories that Charlie tells about Mae are played out on the stage, and we see her as a young vaudevillian, a controversial playwright, and finally the film star she became.
Here's where it works: Rosalie Teneth is Mae West. Now, I'm not a Mae West fan. I've never seen one of her films, only clips, but from what I've seen Teneth's West is completely on the mark. With her prominent breasts and round, ample derrière, she struts and curves and bends around the stage, a purring moan dominating her every line, personifying raunchy female sexuality. Teneth also plays the role of Jo, imbuing her with a believably earnest loneliness. The tempo is quick, but there's a simplicity to Teneth's performance that's highly attractive. The same can be said of Robert Newell, who plays multiple characters from Mae's past, and Mark Mattek, who, like Newell, plays Charlie and others. Their presentations are well-defined, and they almost always do just enough to convince us they are who they say they are. This consistency of performance cannot be obtained without the help of a firm directorial hand, and director Matt Lenz should be commended. Lenz's staging is effective as well. Despite being performed in the round, I never felt I was missing a thing.
One part of this show in particular stands out. The major theme of the play centers on identity, about accepting who you really are and being true to yourself. At one point, Michael McDonald's lush, beaded, feathered costumes, Jason Amato's luxurious, atmospheric lights, and Raiford's highly theatrical, old-fashioned set come together with the actors in a moment of revelation about as neat as anything you'll see in a theatre. As I said, when it works, there's nothing like it, but sometimes it doesn't work. At one point, Mattek is called on to play W.C. Fields, and he doesn't come close. Given Teneth's West, it's probably more disappointing than it otherwise would be. In addition, there are several song-and-dance numbers in the show, and while they're entertaining, none of the actors really have the voices or the moves to convince us. Finally, Allen Robertson's sound design, while of high quality and supportive of the action, sometimes overwhelms with volume, particularly at the beginning of the show. But there are many more reasons to attend than not to. If you do, go for Teneth's West. You will feel like you're in the presence of a star -- because you will be.