Mae Brecht’s Sex


Earlier this week we drove down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see the Shaw production of Mae West’s Sex at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, directed by Peter Hinton-Davis.

I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The play itself contains very little actual sex but is about the manipulative power of sexuality, reputation & commodification of sex – i.e. sex for sale as opposed to sex for pleasure (neither of which are proper). I loved the use the Brechtian stage techniques that gave the play a non-Broadway sensability. In fact the production values were, as one would expect from Shaw, excellent. Starting with the perfectly curated house music that set the time period, the costumes were exquisite, the use of suitcases – literally living out of a suitcase for the first scenes – was fun & the choreography of their use was well handled by the cast.

The musical numbers were lively or compelling when need be, & well-performed. I love on stage musicians. The saxophone, tuba, & banjo had the feel & sound of Brecht-Weill’s work. The cast also clearly enjoyed these opportunities to bust loose. I fact these were the only times I felt the cast actually enjoying themselves.The decision not to ‘camp’ it up was a good one but it also drained this production of energy. The text was, for the most part, treated too soberly & slowly. I think if it had been delivered a bit quicker it would have been stronger. The plot was sturdy, the subtext of women struggling to have agency over their sexuality was powerful – a struggle still continues today. 

In fact I think the ultimate ‘obscenity’ in the eyes of the powers-that-be was Mae West’s fearless control of her sexuality & the financial success she had achieved as a writer/performer. The censors were pissed that she was a woman making money. If it had been a male playwright he would have probably been lauded for being so progressive.

I found that the performance of Diana Donnelly in the lead as Margy was lacking in spark. She never felt invested in the character except for her scenes with the excellent Fiona Byrne’s Clara. Margy’s monologue in Act 2 about sex was Diana’s best moment. Kristopher Bowman as Roc never felt threatening, perhaps he wasn’t meant to be threatening. André Sills as Lt. Gregg had a charming sexual presence, despite a cartoonish British accent.

It’s impossible to separate this play from its author & the place it has in the history of censorship. Then it was seen as the eroding of the moral fibre of the American family values – perhaps it succeed as today, nearly 100 years later, it is innocuous; but women are still being shamed for taking agency over their sexuality.  

http://blog.modernmechanix.com/when-mae-west-went-to-jail-for-sex/?fbclid=IwAR3JR1DrQGT14Ddn3Tu3Hr-oIZznL6JUP7vjBLDkft2tLdfO0wTHRpvF1rk

other reviews:

Costume Warehouse Tour – Me? Caped Crusader https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3vQ

Henry VIII – ‘Abject Object’ https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3vW 

Our Father Issues  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3CB

Cape Breton (Liberation Army) Day 7 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Gj

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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