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Theatre Review: "Dirty Blonde" at Pendragon Theatre

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"Dirty Blonde" is running in rep at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake through August 31.

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Reported by

Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

 

DIRTY BLONDE by Claudia Shear, running in rep at Pendragon Theatre, is about Mae West, queen of the one-liners.  The flashbacks of her career and life are interwoven with the present-day lives of Charlie and Jo, fans of Miss West, who meet at her tomb.  The play’s structure is confusing at first, as initially the emphasis of the production is totally on Mae.  It takes a bit too long for us to understand the framework of the present-day scenes and connect them to the flashback material.

Speaking of flashbacks, projection designer Bonnie B. Brewer has done a nice job with the many photos projected on a screen upstage.  Tijana Bjelajac’s simple set consisting of three chairs, a table and an upright piano set into a platform stage right, is very workable.  Kent Streed’s costumes are good and keep dresser Clare Paulson hopping with the many very fast changes.

The two men in the cast between them play 16 characters, all but one of whom relate to Mae West’s life and career.  Dylan Duffy does a nice job with them all, especially Joe Frisco and Eddie, two of Mae’s long-time friends.  He manages to invest each character with an element of believability, no matter how brief the character’s appearance.  Matthew C. Eick is equally versatile and gives a particularly nice performance as Charlie, the present-day character.  He gives Charlie not only depth and sensitivity but also humor.  I loved the vampire cape demonstration.

Brandy Clark, who plays the double role of Mae West and present-day Jo, states in her program bio that she “is a newcomer to the acting scene,” and it shows.  She has a problem common to actors required to play a famous person.  Miss Clark is so preoccupied with the externals of imitation such as voice, mannerisms, facial expressions, etc., that there’s no internal life in the character.  She does better as Jo, although she does slip in and out of character.  What she’s really terrific at is singing.  She has a powerful and appropriately brassy voice and does a great job on her songs.

Accompanist/Musical Director Lynn DeWalt does well with the arrangements, music and lyrics by Bob Stillman.  There’s a lot of underscoring, which adds a great deal to the production, not to mention five entertaining songs.

Director Laura-Jean Swanson has done a nice job with the staging and the choreography for the title song is very funny.  However she’s not managed to focus the play or help Miss Clark bring true life to Mae West.  We’re left with a hollow impersonation at the core of the piece and are not sure what the present-day scenes have to do with Mae West or her life.  Although it’s fun to hear again some of Miss West’s one-liners and the songs are entertaining, the play never really comes together and falls flat.

On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of DIRTY BLONDE gets two and three-fourths  pine trees.  For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.

 

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