She was, indeed, no angel.
She was bawdy, with an unrivaled wit and sassiness.
She was confident and self-reliant in every role she played.
She scandalized her movie and theater audiences, and society in general, with her racy one-liners and uninhibited celebration of the joys of sex in the 1930s.
But in Claudia Shear’s “Dirty Blonde,” the silver screen siren, Mae West, gets an outrageous new role that even she could never have imagined: Cupid.
“Dirty Blonde,” currently playing through Oct. 13 at the Wilma Theater, is much more than merely a homage to the incredible Mae.
Though, it is Mae who brings together two lost and disconnected souls: Jo and Charles, who are united by their mutual love and admiration for her.
To Jo and Charles, she is the plumed and sequined epitome of all the things each lacks and desires.
Her toughness and freedom of spirit is what draws them together but the attraction also serves as painful reminders of how inhibited and alienated both truly are.
The question is: can Mae’s magic not only bring them together but bring them back to life?
That question is explored with great style and charm by Shear (who portrayed Mae in the original Broadway production).
The play received five Tony nominations, including Best Play and Best Actress in a Play for Shear.
The current Wilma Theater production, directed by Ethan McSweeny, is beautifully cast and well designed; amply demonstrating why the Tony voting committee was so smitten with this “Blonde.”
A gifted and game cast of three play Mae, Jo, Charles and several hilarious secondary characters.
In the role of both Mae and Jo, Ryan Dunn conveys the attitude and humor of Mae, delivering her naughty zingers with flair.
More impressively, she reveals the woman behind the self-created façade.
Dunn’s Mae isn’t as over-the-top as many impersonations have been and that may well account for the glimmers of the real woman revealed.
Dunn skillfully conveys Jo’s awkwardness and uncertainty, but is never pathetic.
She lacks Mae’s confidence, inhibiting her to shine.
One of the evening’s highlights was how ably Dunn switched between Jo and Mae in two interconnected scenes, requiring her to play Mae dressing for the stage and Jo dressing as Mae for a party.
Kevin Carolan is terrific as Charles.
Quiet and diffident, his sly smile reveals a soul anxious to break free.
Charles’ hesitation to evolve is apparent; and Carolan captures that in his often-curt responses to Jo’s attempts to loosen him up.
When he decides to cast caution to the wind, Carolan conveys all the heartbreak and terror of taking that first step.
Finally, Albert Mackin possesses a powerful voice and acting range. He was particularly effective, and hilarious, as a hairdresser who benefits from Mae’s generosity.
In “Dirty Blonde,” Mae West is brought back to life, reminding the world that at least one blonde has more fun.