Dirty Blonde | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dirty Blonde 

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Dirty Blonde, Apple Tree Theatre. This quirky romantic comedy interweaves two story lines. One concerns Mae West's evolution from vaudeville vamp to Hollywood's savviest sexual satirist; the other charts the oddball relationship between aspiring actress Jo and shy film geek Charlie--also a heterosexual transvestite--brought together by their shared obsession with West's life and legend. The show was originally a vehicle for its author, New York comedienne Claudia Shear, who played both Jo and Mae. Shear's offbeat, witty script is touching if done right, as it was in the touring version of James Lapine's original New York production, which ran at the Shubert Theatre in 2002. But Ernest Zulia's Apple Tree staging misses the play's potential mix of spark and pathos.

Susie McMonagle is unconvincing as Mae. More effective as Jo, she's unfortunately handicapped by Michael Lindner's weak portrayal of the wonderfully complex Charlie. Greg Vinkler's hilarious but self-indulgent turn as Mae's image consultant, a trembling-voiced drag queen, overshadows rather than complements the central romance. Other problems include sluggish pacing, slow scene changes that interrupt the intended cinematic jumps between the parallel plots, and pianist Nick Williams's stiff renditions of Mae's raunchy ragtime songs.

As compensation, there are numerous classic West one-liners and Frances Maggio's fabulous costumes--an extravagant array of boas, feathered hats, and beaded gowns perfect for this Halloween-season tribute to the world's most famous female female impersonator.

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