Before she became one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars of the 1930s, the iconic Mae West was a playwright and a Broadway star. In April, 1926 she opened her newest play, Sex, at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre. The reviewers savaged the show, calling it “crude” and “vulgar,” mostly for its morality or perceived immorality. The main character was a prostitute as were several other female roles, another character was a murderer and blackmailer, a third was a society woman looking for some cheap kicks and getting drugged and robbed for her effort. Not typical fare for 1926 theatregoers yet they packed the place for 375 performances before police raided the show in February, 1927. West and her cast were charged with obscenity after having been seen by over 325,000 people. West was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in a workhouse but achieved national notoriety as a result. By 1933 she was a movie star and saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy with her films. Buzzworks Theater Company is currently reviving Sex on the Hudson Theatre Mainstage. It’s surprising to hear this 92 year old play still get the laughs it deserves. For the most part, West’s script is still vibrant.
Margy LaMont (Andrea Hutchman) is the most famous entrepreneur/prostitute on the infamous Caidoux Street in Montreal’s red light district. Rocky (Davey Johnson), a murderer, is Margy’s current pimp but she is chafing under his control and is thinking of leaving. One of her regulars, British Naval officer Lt. Gregg (Wayne Wilderson), encourages her to follow his fleet through the Caribbean and make money port to port. Neighbor and fellow prostitute, the tragic and homesick Agnes (Lowam Eyasu), also wants to quit the business and return home to her family. After discovering Clara (Susan Edwards Martin), a society matron looking for thrills, who Rocky has robbed, drugged and left for dead in her apartment, Margy decides to follow the fleet. There is a wild musical interlude as we are introduced to the fun spots of Haiti and Trinidad, showcasing the singing talents of Kandace Lindsey, Martin and David Errigo. It’s there that Margy meets the young, sexually inexperienced heir to a fortune, Jimmy (Ryan Phillips). who becomes besotted with her and proposes marriage. She accepts and is soon in New York meeting Jimmy’s parents, especially his disapproving mother, Clara. Complications mount but a happy ending awaits Margy. Director Sirena Irwin has spiced up the show with nice touches but overall it could use more pizazz and pacing. The cast of ten is uneven with Eyasu, Errigo, Martin and Wilderson faring best. Hutchman often comes across as if she has never seen a Mae West movie. She gets laughs but mostly because of the way the lines were written, not how she delivers them. She nearly comes across as the “straight man” in this sex comedy, something Mae West never intended. Michael Flannery designed the simple yet effective scenic design and Michael Mullen created some lovely period costumes. Sex is a real rarity and it should be seen by those who love theatre history. Sex really deserves a better production and leading lady and if it received them, could enjoy a lengthy run, here or off-Broadway.
Hudson Theatre Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Ends June 17. https://dime.io/events/buzzworks-sex.