Let's Talk About Sex

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

It’s time to have a serious talk about Sex. Isn’t it punny to do word play around this title? I’m not sure that’s what Mae West had in mind when she wrote it. Though hard to believe, Mae West was a burlesque entertainer barely on anyone’s radar when she wrote, financed, and starred herself in this play on Broadway guaranteed to cause a “buzz.”  With an unerring nose for publicity, West’s play tackled hypocrisy in 1926 New York and society swarmed to it, despite efforts by the NYPD to shut it down.

In Sex, Mae West played Margy (here performed by a cool Andrea Hutchman), a prostitute struggling to extricate herself from Rocky (Davey Johnson), her pimp, against all odds imposed by straight-laced society of the day. When Clara, a rich dowager (Susan Edwards Martin), hooks up with Rocky in search of an evening of thrills, the exposés start and chips begin to fall.

West scripted in a series of oppositions, deliciously contrasting Clara’s son, Jimmy (Ryan Phillips), as one of Margy’s admirers, with another customer, Lt. Gregg (Wayne Wilderson), Margy’s most loyal customer. She alternates those contrasting personalities with Agnes (Lowam Eyasu), another performer who just wants to settle down.

Hutchman delivers her characterization of Margy with West’s celebrated nonchalance without becoming a caricature, and Johnson, as Rocky, strikes notes reminiscent of Edward G. Robinson. Another pivotal character, Dawson (Perry Brown), plays it straight while representing the most lenient of lawmen.

Director Sirena Irwin uses unconventional casting for most of the other characters, thus creating another oppositional dynamic. She strikes a perfect tone evoking an almost 40s-era gangster tradition that brings authenticity to West’s otherwise stereotypical portrayal of a harlot with a heart of gold (but in this case she’s got an ambitious yen for legitimacy). It doesn't matter that the production values are sparse, because the entire ambiance contributes to the effect.

For instance, the utilitarian set (by Mike Flannery) stands in for everything from a Montreal brothel to an exotic Trinidad cabana and back to a New York Townhouse, with simple lighting (Derrick McDaniel) and sound (Dave Marling) to accommodate. But if costumes make the (wo)man, those chosen by costumer Michael Mullen expertly bring us into the era.

Be advised: For a nostalgic trip to a far-off time and an iconic dame like Mae West, you really need to have Sex!

Sex continues Friday and Saturday at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday at 7:00 P.M. through June 17th, 2018 at the Hudson Theatre main stage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038.  All tickets are $30.00.  Find online ticketing at https://dime.io/events/buzzworks-sex, or at the Hudson Theatre Box Office.