By Diana Saenger
Claudia Shear’s “Dirty Blonde,” nominated for five Tony Awards in 2000, comes to the Cygnet Theatre stage through June 17. Directed by Cygnet’s Sean Murray, the play journeys through the life of actress/comedian Mae West, revealing plenty about her career, as well some history that might surprise some.
“Dirty Blonde” has been labeled a “bawdy, funny, sexy and touching contemporary love story.” Spouting those famous double-entendres West was known for is actress Melinda Gilb. Actor Steve Gunderson plays her soul mate.
Gilb said she finds an enormous challenge in playing such an iconic star as Mae West.
“I’m portraying her at age 16 and there’s no movie or tape of her at 16, so who knows what she was like then,” Gilb said. “Then there’s the classic Mae. It’s not just a walk or an eye roll or a way of speaking, she kind of exuded this sexuality thing. And then there’s this other relationship that weaves in and out of the entire story
“Mae West was a pioneer, a business woman, and at one time the highest paid actor in Hollywood. She didn’t use sexuality to move her career, although it didn’t hurt, but that’s just who she was. She was so ahead of her time. She fought to have African-American people in her movies and wrote plays for gays and had them produced on Broadway. What she did, she did well. There was no one like her.
Director Murray said what he likes best about the cast is that “these actors can make you laugh out loud while tugging at your heartstrings.”
Mae West Fast Facts
Born: Aug. 17, 1893 in Brooklyn
Died: Nov. 22, 1980 in Los Angeles
Height: 5’ 0”
Weight: 121 pounds
Entertainment career: Spanned seven decades
Autobiography: In 1959, she released her Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, which went on to become a best-seller.