Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Snappy Production of Dirty Blonde

Also see Richard's reviews of Cabaret Girl and Hairspray

Cameron Weston and
Stephanie Temple

The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting Claudia Shear/James Lapine's Dirty Blonde, which runs through June 26th at their theatre center at 25 Van Ness Ave. The romantic comedy opened in May, 2000 in New York with Ms. Shear playing the dual roles of Jo and Mae West. Shear's co-stars were Kevin Chamberlin and Bob Stillman.

Dirty Blonde is a perfect piece for a regional theatre since it needs only three actors (one female who can do an imitation of Mae West and two males who can take on a variety of roles) and a very minimal set.

Dirty Blonde is a delightful play and a warmhearted tribute to the voluptuous Mae West who actually saved Paramount Studios from bankruptcy in the early '30s with her sensual films. As one of the characters says in the play, "She's the movie star equivalent of Venice." Claudia Shear and James Lapine's script is snappy, with many of Mae's famous innuendos and double entendres exploding across to the audience. The 90 minute no intermission production is a mini-biography of the famous "Come up and see me sometime" movie star.

Dirty Blonde centers around Jo (Stephanie Temple), an aspiring actress, and Charlie (Robert Cooper), an aesthetic cinema aficionado, in present day New York. Both are lonely and one day they meet at the gravesite of Mae West. Both learn they have a mutual obsession with the copious film and stage icon. The two learn to accept each other and they become lovers. The romantic comedy is played out against a re-enactment of Mae's (Stephanie Temple) strange showbiz career and Charles' first encounter with the movie star when he was a teenager.

Director Doyle Ott has assembled three very talented actors and helms a very tight excellent-paced production in one of the small houses of the New Conservatory Theatre Center. He uses a minimal set with a velvet drape, which becomes a curtain in the background, and a series of chairs and desk for props. The action is centered on the excellent actors rather than the set in this 50 seat house.

Stephanie Temple is exceptional in both roles, as Jo and Mae West. She gives a sumptuous portrayal of the actress in all aspects of her life, from her start in the biz to an aging recluse in the Ravenswood apartments in Hollywood. This role could be over-camped, but under Mr. Ott's direction, Ms. Temple does a beautiful rendition of Ms. West. Even when she plays the actress as an aged recluse, she is marvelous.

Robert Cooper takes on many roles, including the overweight Charlie who has a secret desire that is revealed at the end. He displays great facility in his various portrayals of W.C. Fields, a prizefighting pug and a Tammany Hall hood. Cooper is also wonderful playing a drag queen named The Duchess, in what probably was the first American homosexual play, The Drag, written by Mae. (It never opened as the New York censors said absolutely it could not be performed since all of the cast were flamboyant drag queens). There is a heartrending rapport between Temple's Jo and Copper's Charlie.

Cameron Weston also has great skill in playing various roles. He makes a very good Joe Frisco, a crusty ex-vaudeville star and caretaker of Mae during her recluse period, the actress's first husband Frank Wallace and, in a terrific fey performance, as Edward, Ms. West's confident and "star" of the never seen The Drag.

Director Ott's staging is excellent and the pace never lags as the comedy moves effortlessly between the dual storylines.

Dirty Blonde plays through June 26 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center at 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at

Del Shores's Southern Baptist Sissies is now in previews at the larger theater of the NCTC, and it opens official on May 15th. A workshop of a new musical by George Furth and Doug Katsaros, The End, opens on May 21.

Photo: Lois Tema

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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