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Dirty Blonde at San Jose Stage Company

Mae West comes to life in new production at San Jose Stage

BY ALL ACCOUNTS, Mae West was ahead of her time. An outspoken sex symbol, she battled censorship, championed the women’s liberation movement and supported gay rights. Her plays and movies were a magnet for controversy, but the public came out in droves—and she even saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. If I had been in my prime during her heyday, I definitely would have come up some time to see her, mainly because of the way she is portrayed in San Jose Stage Company’s new show, Dirty Blonde. The two-act play boasts two actors and one actress taking on many different roles. Intertwined with West’s biography is a love story of two obsessed fans: Jo, a sensible girl who is somewhat afraid of men, and Charlie, an everyman with a dark secret.

The play opens with the troupe explaining what a tough woman is. She doesn’t take any crap, and she’s not someone you’d take home to meet your mother. She says what she wants, knows what she wants and invariably gets what she wants. We’re then treated with the life of a woman who defied convention, and the people who helped her through it. West’s story begins with her performing in vaudeville acts and later writing her own, including Sex, which landed her in jail for 10 days. West rises to fame and fortune in the movie business all the while being herself and challenging authority.

The subplot involves two huge followers of West, who meet at her grave on her birthday. Jo is a struggling actress who works as an office temp, and Charlie works in the New York Public Library’s film archives. They start talking when Charlie reveals he actually met West once. They hit it off; the timid Charlie thinks he’s met the woman of his dreams, but Jo discovers Charlie’s secret and is reluctant.

Judith Miller plays West perfectly. She transforms herself into the voluptuous diva and delivers her mannerisms, quips and trademark strut with perfect precision. Colin Thomson and Martin Rojas-Dietrich handle the different roles they’re cast in with ease and believability. In the end, West can be best described by one of her quotes: “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.”

DIRTY BLONDE, a San Jose Stage Company production, plays Wednesday–Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through May 2 at The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $14–$40. (408.283.7142)