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Volume 68, Issue 118, Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Arts & Entertainment

Sex and obsession at Stages' 'Dirty Blonde'

By Chris Brunt
The Daily Cougar

With Dirty Blonde, Stages Repertory Theatre delivers a triumph of sex, stars, cross-dressing, sexiness, obsession, sexy parlance, lots of catchy tunes and more sex.

Most of you have probably never heard of Mae West. No matter. I assume youive heard of Madonna, Anna Nicole Smith, Marilyn Monroe and Courtney Love. Just take the sum of said blondes, put her on any given stage, and youive got the Mae West of Dirty Blonde.

Susan Oltmanns-Koozin plays the roles of Mae West and a young woman named Jo who is obsessed with the blonde bombshell in the Stages Repertory Theatre production of Dirty Blonde.

Bruce Bennett/Stages Theatre

Nominated for five Tony Awards in 2000, Claudia Shearis play earned appropriately thunderous acclaim when it hit Broadway. The genius of this musical/comedy/drama lies more in the style than in the plot, but for the sake of protocol Iill briefly outline the story:

Boy meets girl; boy likes girl; girl thinks boy is gay because heis obsessed with Mae West; girl is also obsessed with Mae West, so she overlooks the whole gay thing until he tries to kiss her. Thereis more, and thankfully the whole of it is too irreverent to be sappy, and too charming to be cynical.

The play is well-crafted, as Shear seamlessly juxtaposes two stories: the quirky present-day tale previously summarized, and the swanky 1920s saga of Mae Westis rise from vaudeville spectacle to Hollywood icon.

Director Laura Josepher handles this difficult form with wonderful control ­ the stories are bound together by thematic threads and jump back and forth a la Godfather II. These tricky transitions play smoother than Maeis curves, which is a credit to both Josepheris direction and the talented trio of actors.

The present-day story is set in New York City and is narrated most frequently by Charlie (Jeffrey Gimble). Charlie is a loner whose obsession with Mae West gradually reveals itself to be so severe and mired in dementia that it is cringe-worthy.

Gimble skillfully plays the role as if heis an impossibly large 5-year-old with impulsive, shifty mannerisms. Considering his physical attributes, the frequent time shifts and the stream-of-consciousness associations that provoke them, Charlie is bound at some point to be compared to William Faulkneris Benjy, and I think that time is now.

Susan Oltmanns-Koozin impresses as the lonely West-obsessed Jo, a likeable young woman overall. The actress seems to have much more fun portraying the flamboyant Mae, and the contrast she gives to these two roles is remarkable. Mae talks side-mouthed and loud and seldom completes a scene without touching herself. In short, sheis every sailoris dream.

Koozin does outstanding work; one minute the docile Jo is reminiscing with Charlie about their mutual idol and the next sheis strutting across the stage as the va-va-voom vixen. At times, both story lines are played simultaneously, something that really canit be described in brief. Go and marvel.

Act I, while entertaining, dragged in a few places. Each of the numerous characters is so overblown and bombastic that they seemed to step on each otheris toes.

After intermission, however, the play launched out of its socket. The players struck a fortunate rhythm, the musical numbers (Maeis especially) were twice as colorful with double the dirty and Koozin brought the house down with her one-liners, delivered in a sultry, husky bedroom voice.

Philip Lehl is the all-purpose workhorse actor, playing more roles than Peter Sellers ever dreamt of. His most memorable is Maeis favorite hairdresser/confidante/drag queen, a character equipped with an arsenal of wicked puns, hysterical quips and an attitude born for showbiz.

This is a truly ambitious production. The sparse stage and even sparser cast place massive pressure on the troupe to pull off all the fireworks, and indeed they do this with verve. Stages Repertory has the best show in town.

Dirty Blonde runs through April 13 at Stagesi Yeager Theater. Call 713-527-0123 for more information.

Dirty Blonde

Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway (entrance on Rosine Street)

The Verdict: Itis an evening of innovative innuendo and splendid production.

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