Dirty Blonde

REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES-- It's a mystery how DIRTY BLONDE could have won critical plaudits both in New York and Los Angeles, where the Mae West tribute play just opened a six-week run at the Pasadena Playhouse. Written and performed (with two other actors) by Claudia Shear, the play offers an appalling portrait of the movie and legit star, turning her into a self-absorbed, foul-mouthed harpy with a severe weight problem. As if that weren't bad enough, Shear and director James Lapine (who shares a "conceived by" credit), invent a couple of shlubby Mae West fans, Jo and Charlie, whose obsession with her--and pathetic love affair-- is so extreme as to resemble psychosis. Shear plays both West and Jo in an act of hubris that is embarrassing to watch. Tom Riis Farrell has some amusing moments as Charlie (and W.C. Fields), but is undone by Lapine's emphasis on caricature, not character. The same holds true for Bob Stillman, who impersonates various men in West's life, including the comedian Joe Frisco, in unvarying, campy fashion. Stillman also plays piano while Shear takes a stab at singing some of West's most famous songs; mercifully, they didn't last long. The same can't be said for the show, which runs two intermissionless, painful hours.

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena. Call (626) 356-PLAY or visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org