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

“Brave Spirits Indeed”

I have seen several productions of The Tempest – some at Stratford, some on TV, at least one Shakespeare in the Park, plus a few film adaptations. The last one I saw starred Christopher Plumber at the Festival. So the play holds little surprise – the pleasure is in the telling.

My favorite Shakespeare character is in this play. Caliban, the true outsider. A creature with human foibles but abused and/or found repulsive by all humans. I’ve frequently found Ariel irritating as opposed to delightful.

Over all this is a solid production with some wonderful over-the-top moments in Act 2. Martha Henry is a fine Prospero – though I would have liked a bit more bitterness, as opposed to the simmering anger but it is good to see her take on the character. There is real chemistry between Mamie Zwettler and André Sills as the young lovers Miranda and Sebastian. 

André Morin as Ariel give a good performance – perhaps the tree bark costume grounded him as one of the earth spirits. An apt costume for a spirit freed from a tree. Michael Blake as Caliban, costumed with barnacles, clearly a sea spirit, is strong but comes across more pissed off than vengeful. As with Prospero I would have liked less amiability – they are too likable 🙂 

The rest of the cast gives nicely detailed performances & as always the reliable stalwarts Stephen Ouimette & Tom McCamus are fun as Trinculo & Stephano – there is always bring great comic chemistry between the two of them.

The colonizing subtext of the play has become more troubling over time – much like Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn it is becoming more politically charged & I wonder how soon it’ll be before The Tempest gets banned. But that’s another blog post. It is still a fun production & well worth seeing.

ps – Some of my focus was distracted repeatedly by a member of the audience who had no hesitation in taking out their cell phone to take pictures of the action on stage – I missed the moment of the entrance of the Harpy with the turning on of their camera screen to get some shots. When they started to do this yet again someone nearer to them leaned over to stop them. At least the photo taker didn’t start to share their pics on social media during the show. How considerate.

Other summer reviews:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night: “a ghost haunting the past” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-30f 

Coriolanus: “My rage is gone” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31K 

The King and I: The King and My Memories https://wp.me/p1RtxU-31Y

Julius Caesar: Honourable Women https://wp.me/p1RtxU-33T

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Entertainment Afoot

https://wp.me/p1RtxU-34I

“My rage is gone”

Thanks to director Robert Lepage the Stratford Festival’s production of Coriolanus is stunning from the first line of dialogue. The level of stage craft is constantly amazing as it supports & expands the plot. Considered one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays this re-imagining of it in modern times makes it perhaps one of his most prophetic plays. Imagine a ruler who feels offended when anyone questions his decisions.

The special effect projections (if that’s what they are called), sometimes as subtle as a curtain moving in the breeze or as dramatic as rain on a speeding car were executed with a precision I didn’t know was possible. The rain on the car, for example, was streaming across the car in the right direction & at the right speed as the car went faster. Oh yes, there was a real car on stage!

Scene transitions were smooth, the use of moving scrims, of moving sets, sliding frames had to have been done by the bank of laptop & desk top computers one saw on entering the theatre. All this tech did not detract from the emotional heart of the play but amplified its beat though news casts, talk-show, multi-view camera coverage &, of course, text & emojis.

The performances were excellent, as one would expect. Lucy Peacock as Mom stole every scene she was in; André Sills as our Hero was solid, energetic but rarely displayed the arrogance his character was credited with (or that one is used to seeing displayed by politicians); Festival stalwarts Tom McCamus, Stephen Ouimette, & Tom Rooney were sharp & clarly relished the characters they were playing. Graham Abbey as the opposing general was excellent & his closing lines “My rage is gone; And I am struck with sorrow” were emotionally delivered & resonant in a way that needed no stage craft. A must see production. 

My review of Long Day’s Journey Into Night: “a ghost haunting the past” https://wp.me/p1RtxU-30f 

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