Hourglass in the press.....

TROUBLE IN PARADISE - June - July 2006

"YUMMY...This is a great-looking, giddy little production, playfully mocking and reveling in the impossible glamour of those Depression-era movies about money and mores.... As the criminal couple, Jeremy Shamos and Nina Hellman are smooth as silk. Carolyn Baeumler is elegant and sympathetic as their target, Madame Colet."
-New York Times (Anita Gates), 6/23/06 - "Trouble in Paradise: The Impossible Glamour That Was Lubitsch" - Click here to read entire review

"ENCHANTING...Directed with jaunty aplomb by Elyse Singer, the actors glide smoothly into a witty simulacrum of the movie. Jeremy Shamos, his voice a cultivated purr, excels as the suave international thief Gaston Morescu; the vulpine Nina Hellman tears amusingly into the role of his life-partner in crime, and Carolyn Baeumler has a sweetly soft presence as their easy-living, free-spirited mark...Set designer Lauren Halpern and costumer Theresa Squire—squeezing great-looking work out of a presumably tight budget—help make this stylish production pop like a bottle of domestic champagne. Trouble in Paradise is Off-Off heaven: a $20 show that plays like a million bucks. "Time Out New York (Adam Feldman) 6/29/06  Click here to read entire review

"With his wide brow and taut grin, Shamos radiates a debonair insouciance, and wide-eyed Hellman nearly outdoes him with her brassy guile...The director and designers have great fun with the piece's upper-caste costumes and art deco milieu. Hellman's gold lamé, Rattazzi's stock garters, even an unpretentious telephone table threaten to steal the show (perhaps not such a surprise in a comedy about thievery). The bouncy, blurting jazz score by Steven Bernstein also makes away with one's heart...Paradise is a fairly Edenic evening."  -- Village Voice (Soloski) "To Heiress Human: Frothy swindle comedy captures that Lubitsch touch" Click here to read entire review

"The perfect entertainment for a summer evening. One can almost hear the martinis chilling all throughout this detailed production, directed beautifully by Elyse Singer... the stellar cast of Trouble in Paradise is hilarious... For those of you craving a satisfying taste of yesteryear, Trouble in Paradise is the perfect dish. It goes down easy, fills one up, and leaves one completely fulfilled. Lubitsch would be proud."
-NYTheatre.com (Michael Criscuolo), 6/19/06 - "Trouble in Paradise" - Click here to read entire review

"This theatrical adaptation would make Lubitsch proud, as the jokes and punch lines consistently hit their mark. The entire cast of Trouble in Paradise had the audience in its palm and roaring approval, as reliably as a laugh track. "
-offoffbroadway.com (Adrienne Cea), 6/16/06 - "Stolen Hearts" - Click here to read entire review

"Every once in a while a reviewer discovers a sparkling gem in a little theatre off-off Broadway... Singer gives us action, smart snappy movement, perfectly timed dialogue and a great cast. TROUBLE IN PARADISE is a swell show with great charm, sophistication, and panache, and is entertaining from start to finish.  Long may it wave!"
-Lively Arts, 6/22/06 - Click here to read entire review

Click here to read Time Out New York's feature article "BELLE OF THE SCREWBALL:  Multifaceted actor Nina Hellman goes high camp in Trouble in Paradise. "

Red Frogs by Ruth Margraff - February 2002

"Cherish good avant-garde theater, like Red Frogs at P.S. 122...brilliant ideas build on one another like a crossword puzzle, and the stage and audience share an in-on-the-joke camaraderie...RED FROGS fuses a bewildering variety of ideas and themes and styles into an almost indescribable but very exciting evening." - nytheatre.com

"[RED FROGS] takes its audience on a joyful glee ride through a landscape of contemporary culture blurred and distorted by tidal waves and the author's own wicked sense of humor...the play's carnival atmosphere bursts with joie de vivre...While there's plenty of meaning to be found in RED FROGS, the proceedings at P.S. 122 make Margraff's message a roller coaster of fun." -- AmericanTheater Web

"a mouth-watering cast of downtown all-stars" - TIME OUT NEW YORK

"the performances are all outstanding." - offoffoff.com

"Entertaining, odd and sexy...the actors handle themselves beautifully, keeping the reigns firmly in their grasp, while still letting the play take on a life of its own...like a sculpture or work of art or music, each spectator will have a highly individualistic idea of what is taking place." -- SHOW BUSINESS

.Sex by Mae West - December 1999 - February 2000

New York Times (Vincent Canby), 2/13/00 - "Mae West, Still There for Us to Come Up and See" Click here to read entire review 

"Smart, funny...almost maliciously provocative...this show is good comedy." 
New York Times (Bruckner), 12/24/99 - "Mae West's First Play (for the Stage, That Is)"  Click here to read entire review

"Bursts with verve and naughtiness..."
Village Voice (Russo), 12/28/99 - "West with the Might"   Click here to read entire review

"Amazing cast...sensational"
Show Business (Callahan), 12/22/99 - "Come Up and See it Some Time"   Click here to read entire review

"Elyse Singer and the Hourglass Group have put back the sting in 'Sex' and made it a hot ticket once again...this is the first hot date play of the 21st century."
Back Stage (Gluck), 1/21/00 - "Sex"

"Delicious...Ultimately one has to wonder, if it hadnít been for gay men--and simpatico women such as Singer and Baeumler--would there ever have been a Mae West?  Fortunately for the arts, all have lived to entertain another day.  Just like the revival of Sex." 
The Advocate (Drake), 2/1/00 - "Wicked Wit of the West"

"The most inspired revival choice of the year...'Sex' succeeds as a searing conflagration of lust and wit."
New York Blade (Smith), 1/7/00 - "Red Hot: 'Sex' Still Satisfies"

"The ingenious concept of the production--and the charm and energy of the players--have made this one of the more enjoyable theatre-evenings of the season.  Carolyn Baeumler, in West's starring role, is a vampish delight. But the entire cast, each in his or her own style, is great fun to watch."
nytheatrrewire.com (Loney) - "SEX" -- A Play by Mae West [****] Click here to read entire review

"Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, this crack ensemble enacts this somewhat serious farce with an aphrodesiacal confidence. To see the tribe of them strut their stuff is to feel alive; at sundry moments I was tempted to leap onstage and join them."
offoffbway.com (TravSD) - Jan. 2000 - "'Sex' at the Gershwin Hotel"   Click here to read entire review

"Baeumler is great...Hellman is hilarious."
Manhattan FILE (LW) - Feb. 2000 - "Sex"

Salon  - "'Sex' and Synanon Onstage" - by Cintra Wilson
Village Voice - "Mae Day! Mae Day!" - by Alexis Soloski
New Criterion - "Mae Days" - by Mark Steyn
Freitag (GER) - "Hedwig aus Ostberlin" - by Henrike Thomsen

To view additional feature articles on SEX, click here.

BabyMistressDivaBitch by Sarah McCord

"With the obvious talents of Ms. McCord and her director, the seemingly ubiquitous Elyse Singer, who's been responsible for more interesting theatre lately than almost any other young director in New York..." -- (November 1997) 

"The show is masterfully directed by Elyse Singer, who has managed to keep McCord the actor out of the way of McCord the writer and vice versa." -- Greenpoint Gazette, (10/1/97)

Sex by Mae West [reading at New York Theatre Workshop] 
"the combination of camp and protofeminism make Sex both wickedly fun and eminently fascinating." -- Time Out New York (7/24/97) 
Hundreds of Sisters & One BIG Brother by Deborah Swisher
"a riveting solo performance...Swisher is a performance artist with a stage presence so engaging you want to follow her anywhere she's inclined to take you, acting skills so well defined she makes each moment alive and immediate, and a narrative style so disarmingly honest that you won't soon forget either the tale she has to tell nor its larger implications...One quick scene follows another, beautifully orchestrated by Elyse Singer...Sisters [is] not only an extraordinary personal odyssey but a smart and provocative parable for our time" -- San Francisco Examiner (3/13/99) 

"captivating...Director Elyse Singer guides Swisher through a crisp, beautifully designed production..." -- Oakland Tribune (3/17/99) 

"a complex, compassionate, funny and ultimately poignant play" -- SF Weekly (3/17/99) 

"Ever since the Dead died...it's been hard to make the '60s fresh, but the ingenious directing, creative set design and superb writing in Hundreds of Sisters is enough to make you say 'Groovy!'" -- San Francisco Bay Guardian (3/17/99) 

"stunning one-person show... extraordinary." -- Village Voice (8/18/98) 

Love in the Void (alt.fan.c-love) by Elyse Singer & Carolyn Baeumler 
"the piece as a whole, directed by Elyse Singer, was terrific. Words and images kept trading places. The technological world was given flesh and blood without losing its aura of science-fiction spookiness." -- Margo Jefferson, New York Times 5/17/95 For full review, click here

"The American fascination with the trope of the tragic torch singer gets a funny and harrowing workout in Love in the Void" -- John Istel, Village Voice (8/15/95) 

"coadaptors [Carolyn] Baeumler and Elyse Singer have slyly located their Courtney Love in a Richard foreman-esque existential hell...Baeumler, as Love might say, fakes it so real she is beyond fake." -- James Hannaham, Village Voice (8/22/95) 

"It took a small theater piece based on the Internet posts of Hole's Courtney Love to evoke the essentially psychological nature of cyberspace..[Carolyn Baeumler's] performance is impresive both in its physical and emotional aggressiveness and its aesthetic restraint....she and director Elyse Singer are able, perhaps for the first time on the stage, to capture a bit of the ïNet mystique." --Ed Hewitt, Music Wire 8/23/95   For full review, click here .

"Courtney's intelligence, biting humor, and weary worldliness, from having experienced more psychic agony than she should ever have had to in her relatively short existence, is captured by Baeumler, in a powerful portrayal...Most of the play is extremely funny." -- CaRol E. Mariconda, Addicted to Noise (8/2/95) 

The New York Times Arts & Leisure
September 18, 1995 SUNDAY VIEW/Margo Jefferson
From Internet to Wharton's Inner Sanctum 
Once you've committed yourself to the view that theater takes place all around, there is no such thing as a vacation. Denied the usual run of openings in the usual houses on and off Broadway, you visit all sorts of theaters: a theater in a stable or a park, a theater on the edge of a forest or in a back room the size of a studio apartment, theaters that link you to the larger world of nature and history or theaters that seal you off and become as self-contained as Alice's rabbit hole. 

'Love in the Void' "Love in the Void (alt.fan.c-love)" took place in a black hole of a room at Here, a performance space in SoHo. The stage (the front of the room, really) was all white; there were white sheets from ceiling to floor, white projection screens and a big white web. When the lights went down, you found yourself on the Internet, inside a war of words and wills being fought between a rock star and her greedy, needy audience. 

The star (played by the actress Carolyn Baeumler) was Courtney Love, and she's one of rock's most compelling multiple personalities: a Lolita who would like to have her words with Mr. Nabakov; the widow of a rock hero (her husband was Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who killed himself in April 1994); a self-mocking, self-dramatizing rock-beat poet whose talk is wild, sexy, blasphemous, very funny and very smart. (Did her fans think she was talking about heroin? Excuse me, that was "heroine.") She made the covers of Esquire and Ms. magazines in the same month, and it wasn't a contradiction. 

The piece was a multimedia adaptation of Ms. Love's computer dialogue with her fans in the six months after Cobain's death. Messages flashed on and off the screens. So did images: film of the real Ms. Love in concert, throwing herself--stage-diving--into the arms of her fans, and film that showed Ms. Baeumler putting on her Courtney Love makeup and wig. 

Throughout, Ms. Baeumler held the stage in Courtney Love drag (a baby-doll pink dress with black lingerie strategically peeping through), throwing herself in and out of the web as she listened to the disembodied voices of Internet inquisitors. We ought to organize a stoning, said one. Admit it, Courtney, said another with aggressive encounter-group earnestness, you're too ambitious to trust your talent; you want to be a star, like Cher or Demi Moore. She hurled her answers back into the void--retorts, rants and satiric riffs on everything from the sweetness and light of the "Free to Be You and Me" toys Ms. Love grew up with to the maniacally phallic stage acts of her male rock peers. 

Was Carolyn Baeumler as compelling to watch as the real Courtney Love? No, she was a hard-working, efficient runner-up. But the piece as a whole, directed by Elyse Singer, was terrific. Word and images kept trading places. The technological world was given flesh and blood without losing its aura of science-fiction spookiness. And a performer (Ms. Baeumler, but really Ms. Love) got to play with, to, against and for her audience, manipulating then interrogating us and herself, making us change our minds about her every minute. 

New York Times - Friday, December 24, 1999 
"Sex": A Gentle Nostalgia Trip, by D.J.R. BRUCKNER

NEW YORK -- If it helps a writer to know a lot about her subject, Mae West brought great authority to her first play, "Sex," written and first produced in New York in 1926. The writing is not as accomplished as it is in some of her later film scripts, but there are enough characteristic West lines to let you know who the author was, and it was good enough to get her tossed into jail in 1927 as the creator and star of an indecent public performance. As a publicity stunt the trial was perfect; from then on she was a star whatever she did. 

Oddly, the text of the play was lost for 70 years. So the show was never revived in the city. But now the Hourglass Group has resurrected it in a production at the Gershwin Hotel -- a setting that has the '20s written all over it -- under the direction of Elyse Singer. It is smart, funny and even a little irreverent to West's creaky plot and often corny dialogue. Ms. Singer is one of the three founders of Hourglass, and the other two, Nina Hellman and Carolyn Baeumler, play key roles. Hourglass itself is devoted to bringing attention to the work of women, but the production is by no means a captive of the playwright. 

West's plot is right out of the pulps. A bright young prostitute in Montreal, Margy (originally played by West, here by Ms. Baeumler), determined to get out of her racket and marry well, takes the advice of a British naval officer to "follow the fleet." That takes her to Trinidad, where she meets the naive scion of a rich family from Greenwich, Conn. He proposes to her and whisks her home to his parents' sprawling mansion. 

Then the plot thickens. One of Margy's Montreal boyfriends had seduced an American society matron -- out slumming in a town where she wouldn't be recognized -- to follow him one night to Margy's apartment, where he slipped her a mickey and stole her jewels. Margy and her naval officer friend return home, find the comatose woman and help her get back to her hotel. Of course, the woman turns out to be the mother of Margy's fiance. And Margy's sailor friend, who truly loves her, turns out to have been invited as a house guest by the fiance. The matron's seamy escapade might be revealed and ... well, you can write the rest of it. 

"The only difference between us is you can afford to give it away," Margy says to the trembling mother. There are many more needless complications here, but since most give rise to comic situations and good lines, what's to object to? 

Ms. Baeumler is alluring and almost maliciously provocative as Margy, even if she displays little of the sense of mockery (including occasional self-mockery) that made West such a natural show-stealer. Ms. Hellman, first as Margy's friend Agnes, a fellow prostitute miserably nostalgic for her rural religious past, and then as Marie, a maid in the Greenwich mansion, creates two comic characters so distinct it is hard to believe they are played by the same woman. 

Agnes, who would make a fitting bride for a scarecrow, all fray and no nerve, has a voice like failing brakes on a New York subway train, but louder. Marie, all curves, seduction and impertinent curiosity, purrs in a French accent that gets a laugh about every second word. 

Cynthia Darlow, a Broadway veteran, is hilarious as the society dame on a lark and even funnier as the frightened mother trying to evade the consequences. T. Ryder Smith, as Margy's naval admirer, Lt Gregg, is virtually a compilation of early American film depictions of British men; he seems to extend the notion of stiff upper lip to his neck, back, knees and elbows, to wonderful effect. And Andrew Elvis Miller as Margy's clueless young fiance is a delicious contrivance; he manages to look like a wax mannequin that talks like a book, with so much sincerity he makes honesty seem quite obscene. Little else in the play sounds obscene at all, despite the long strings of innuendo that always marked West's writing and speech. 

Hourglass surrounds the acts of the play with snippets from the 1927 trial of West, which is probably a good idea because few in the crowd this company attracts can have been 10 years old when West died in 1980 and probably have little idea how the legend began. The scene in a hotel cafe in Trinidad gives the troupe a chance to liven up things with some '20s songs, and sound tracks by Steven Bernstein's Sex Mob thread modern jazz, intelligently anchored in that era, through the whole evening. 

Altogether, this show is good comedy, if sometimes at the expense of the script, and for those who can remember Mae West alive, it is also a gentle nostalgia trip.

New York Times - Arts & Leisure - Sunday, February 13, 2000 
"Mae West, Still There for Us to Come Up and See", by VINCENT CANBY

Imagine, if you can, the spectacle of Mae West playing Norma Desmond in 
"Sunset Boulevard." 

That possibility, reported by Cameron Crowe in his book "Conversations With 
Billy Wilder," must seem incomprehensible to anyone who treasures Gloria 
Swanson's sinuously macabre performance in the 1950 classic. Was Mae West 
some kind of joke? Apparently not. But even if Mr. Wilder initially intended 
"Sunset Boulevard" to be an outright comedy, it is difficult to see how he 
might have used an actress who possessed such a limited, if vivid, 
professional persona. 

We'll never know. Mae wasn't interested in the Wilder project because, it 
seems, she didn't want to play a faded movie star. She knew her fans would 
never believe it. Though she was then in her mid-50's, and no longer in 
demand by the film studios, she felt she was still in the bloom of her youth, 
successfully touring with "Diamond Lil" from time to time and discovering new 
fans on the nightclub circuit. 

She was then someone recognized and/or sought out by such as Cecil Beaton, 
Colette and Sacheverell Sitwell. In his admiring review of her 1949 revival 
of "Diamond Lil," Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times was moved to 
acknowledge what he called, in an uncharacteristically poetic effusion, "the 
sublime fatalism of the entire business," going on to ask, "Is she kidding or 
is she serious?" 

Mae West had become an institution, which is dangerous. 

Today it seems that Mr. Wilder's vision of Norma Desmond in the stout form of 
Mae West was nothing less than prescient. Gloria Swanson may have acted Norma 
Desmond, but Mae West lived the character, far longer and far more 
successfully than Mr. Wilder, in the late 1940's, might have imagined. 

That's one of the subsidiary revelations of "Dirty Blonde," the nervy, 
exceptionally entertaining Off Broadway production that contemplates the
legacy of Mae West in a format that mixes comedy and song to suggest that 
life, after all, is very much like a revue. Unfortunately,  plays its last 
performance today at New York Theater Workshop, but don't despair. There are 
expectations it will soon transfer either to Broadway or to another Off 
Broadway house. It deserves an afterlife. 

So does the season's second Mae West tribute: the Hourglass Group's 
pocket-size but exuberant Off Off Broadway revival of "Sex," West's 1926 
comedy-melodrama, which ends its run tomorrow in the tiny theater at the 
Gershwin Hotel. 

"Sex" is notorious in Broadway history for having been labeled "a public 
nuisance" by the New York police and closed down, even though it had already 
played 41 weeks of sold-out performances without incident. In the trial that 
followed, Mae was found guilty and sentenced to serve 10 days in the Women's 
Workhouse on Welfare (now Roosevelt) Island. She received great publicity 
from the trial, but at a certain cost. The publicity also scared New York 
theater owners from booking her latest production, "The Drag," a male drag 
show that, reportedly, was the real target of the attack on "Sex." 

 is wise and moving and seemingly effortless in the way that it evokes the 
life, times and manners of Mae West. The work is a seamless collaboration 
between Claudia Shear, the star and author of her own autobiographical play, 
"Blown Sideways Through Life," and James Lapine, the playwright, director and 
frequent theatrical partner of Stephen Sondheim. 

Ms. Shear and Mr. Lapine together "devised" the show, which was written by 
Ms. Shear, directed by Mr. Lapine, and is being acted by Ms. Shear, Kevin 
Chamberlin and Bob Stillman. 

The result is a comic enchantment about two klutzy New Yorkers: Jo (Ms. 
Shear) and Charlie (Mr. Chamberlin), whose unusual relationship begins when 
they meet at Mae West's mausoleum in the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. 
Each is a seriously dedicated fan, though Charlie has the edge over Jo. A S a 
teenager on a summer vacation in Los Angeles, he came to know the ancient Mae 
in her Ravenswood apartment, her home from the early 1930's until her death 
in 1980. Briefly, Charlie was accepted into her small, sealed world, where 
she lived her days in perpetual twilight (the sun did terrible things to her 
skin), attended by hangers-on from the old days. 

Mae liked nothing better than to spend hours leafing through Charlie's Mae 
West scrapbooks; on a special occasion, the queenly bee and her drones might 
go out to eat Chinese, being driven to and from in her Bentley. 

 moves swiftly in and out of the lives of Mae (also played by Ms. Shear) and 
her various male attendants (played by Mr. Chamberlin and Mr. Stillman), and 
the contemporary trials of Jo and Charlie. One of Jo's comic/sad epiphanies 
about Mae: "She never saw Paris . . . but she could have." 

At first, Mae's obsession with self and climbing to the top is seen as funny, 
as when we're told that her mother once advised her, "Don't be selfish, think 
of your career." Only later, as Jo and Charlie gain some understanding of 
their own lives, do they begin to see Mae in perspective. The show's final 
image, which shouldn't be described, is as eccentric as it is triumphant, 
though in a very unusual way. 

The Hourglass Group's production of "Sex" is something else: a chance to see 
the three-act play more or less as it was presented with music interludes in 
1926, but also framed with quotations taken from the court proceedings 
against it. Elyse Singer is the director of the first-rate cast headed by 
Carolyn Baeumler in the Mae West role. 

Mae not only starred in "Sex" as Margy LaMont, an upwardly mobile whore with 
a heart of gold, but she also took credit as the playwright. According to 
Emily Wortis Leider's biography "Becoming Mae West," "Sex" has its origins in 
"Following the Fleet," a play by J. J. Byrne that Mae bought and rewrote in 
collaboration with the uncredited Adeline Leitzbach -- Mae never shared 
credit easily. What distinguishes "Sex" from other so-called exploitation 
plays of the time is Margy LaMont's brazenly untroubled attitude toward her 

Mae always said she was too nervous to read, so it is unlikely that she ever 
had contact with George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession." Yet she 
would seem to agree with Shaw that prostitution, while not something to be 
celebrated, should be understood as a natural consequence in a society that 
denies women their economic rights and encourages their ignorance. 

In the introduction to "Three Plays by Mae West," published by Routledge, 
Lillian Schlissel, the editor, notes that at the end of "Sex," Margy LaMont 
"is neither saved or reborn." 

She continues, "There is no spiritual redemption . . . The ethical arithmetic 
is redrawn -- the wages of sin are reduced from mortal transgression to 

This is what scared Broadway and then delighted the movie audiences in the 
early years of the Great Depression. 

When Mae went to Hollywood, her good humor and bold assumption of sexual 
authority, coupled with her raunchy aphorisms of Wildean balance, transformed 
her into one of the world's biggest box-office attractions. She was also the 
reason Hollywood overhauled the Production Code, the apparatus by which the 
industry censored its own material, in this way to combat the new 
licentiousness represented by little Mae. 

Her first three movies, "Night After Night" (1932), "She Done Him Wrong" 
(1933) and "I'm No Angel" (1933), are stuffed with the grand 
doubles-entendres that she never tired of recycling for the rest of her life. 
It's in "I'm No Angel" that she plays a lion tamer who sticks her head into 
the big cat's mouth, prompting an admirer to say significantly, "She's safer 
in that cage than she is in bed." This is the same movie in which she 
enunciated as her dictum about men: "Find 'em, fool 'em, 'n forget 'em." 
Which, in 1933, was her variation on what men, especially the sort whom Mae 
admired most, were supposed to say about women. 

Yet by the end of the 1930's, Mae's movies were no longer sure-fire 
box-office hits. It wasn't only because the Production Code was sanitizing 
her material. Her range was limited and she was repeating herself. She might 
have gone on forever as the supporting character actress she was in "Night 
After Night," but she couldn't resist playing the star. When she hogs the 
screen a certain monotony creeps into her work; it soon seems as if she is 
imitating herself. 

A further problem was her age. Mae started late in Hollywood; she had her 
40th birthday while shooting "I'm No Angel." Her ample figure was less easily 
disguised in contemporary clothes than in the sort of gowns worn by Lillian 
Russell, but she couldn't confine her films to tales set in the Gay Nineties. 

Mae West isn't forgotten today, but she is probably best remembered in 
oblique ways, in association with other things, like the busty life jackets 
that World War II servicemen nicknamed for her. She is still recalled by 
occasional impersonators, some of whom are more bizarre than others. 
Following the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, there was a news photograph of the 
child wearing the sort of feather boa and cartwheel hat that Mae sported in 
"She Done Him Wrong." 

Mae's films still can be found in video rental shops, of course. Yet I 
suspect that the one rented most frequently is "My Little Chickadee." This 
1940 comedy-western about a hooker and a card shark is not, strictly 
speaking, a true Mae West movie, having been stolen by the nimble, 
white-gloved digits of W. C. Fields, her larcenous co-star. 

Mae made three films after "My Little Chickadee," but she might as well have 
retired then and there. Fields -- no gallant gentleman he (as Mae well knew) 
-- damaged her reputation in subtle ways that, for lethal effect, equaled the 
destruction wreaked on her pictures by the Production Code. 

Fields didn't try to clean up her act; he did something far worse: he made 
Mae, the laid-back, self-mocking good-time girl of "She Done Him Wrong" and 
"I'm No Angel," look not only humorless but mean and spiteful. Though Mae, 
playing Flower Belle, sets up the elaborate gag that transforms "My Little 
Chickadee" into one of the funniest movies ever made, the way the gag works 
out demolishes Mae's public persona. 

To escape Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields), who believes he has conjugal rights, 
Flower Belle puts a goat in the bed of their bridal suite, blows out the 
lamps and leaves the room in darkness. Twillie enters from the bathroom and 
climbs into bed, noting, after a decent pause, that Flower Belle seems to be 
sleeping in her caracul coat. "Better take it off, dear," says Twillie with 
concern, "you won't feel the good of it when you go out. . . ." When the goat 
lets out a long "m-a-a-a-a!," Twillie is sent into paroxysms of bliss. "The 
sweet little dear," he says, "is calling for her mama. Such blind innocence. 
. . ." 

THE sequence is priceless, but it also has the effect of making Mae West 
appear to be frosty and completely out of touch with her co-star, which she 
was. Mae was not a team player. But then she knew enough to realize that the 
character she always played, Superhooker, couldn't stand too much realism. 
When actual joy, passion or even humiliation are evident, the Superhooker 
appears ridiculous, like Miss Piggy in an otherwise conventional adaptation 
of "Little Women." Mae took top billing in "My Little Chickadee" but she 
wound up sandbagged by Fields. 

Both  and the revival of "Sex" remind us of the genuine good humor and common 
sense that were the basis of Mae West's art, which today survives in 
recognizable form only in her first three films. All the others are -- to 
greater or lesser degrees -- imitations. 

In a category of its own is "Sextette," Mae's last movie, which opened in New 
York in 1979 when she was nearing 86. The film is Mae's equivalent to the 
biblical epic about Salome in which Norma Desmond intends to make her return 
to the screen in "Sunset Boulevard." Mae's film is a sex comedy, based on a 
play she had written some years earlier, about a world-famous movie star and 
the attempts of her former husbands and lovers to prevent her from 
consummating her sixth marriage. 

I'm embarrassed to admit that, at the time the film opened, I took a dim, 
rather puritanical view of it and of Mae, pointing to the age of the star and 
to the infirmities she shared with the production. You didn't have to be a 
wit to find a few laughs at her expense. 

Now, having seen "Sunset Boulevard" a year ago and, much more recently,  and 
"Sex," I feel quite differently. There is no desire to sit through "Sextette" 
again, but bully for Mae for having got the screenplay onto the screen, 
directed by Ken Hughes (one of whose earlier epics was "Cromwell"), with a
cast including Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, Timothy Dalton and Regis Philbin. 

In Mr. Wilder's satiric Gothic romance, the 50-year-old former movie star 
shoots her screenwriting collaborator-lover and goes mad. In real life, Mae 
West was equally obsessed with the public personality she had created, but 
she wasn't nuts. She made her movie and, a year after it came out, died 
without melodramatic incident, at the age of 87.

New York Times 
Sunday December 5, 1999 
By Emily Wortis Leider 
IMPERSONATORS and cartoonists have always gravitated to Mae West because in performance she usually seemed to be impersonating herself, exaggerating her femininity and commenting on her own outrageousness.

As she gained recognition in the 1920's and 30's, her highly stylized drawl and sashaying gait spawned imitation and invited caricature. Still later, before Miss Piggy stole her cleavage, long eyelashes and penchant for self-celebration, Disney used her as the model for the top-heavy Jenny Wren, and Edie Adams pitched cigars by borrowing her signature slogan (originally spoken with a slightly different word order to Cary Grant in the 1933 film "She Done Him Wrong"): "Why don't you come up and see me some time?"

Two new productions opening in New York are about to remind us that long before her coronation as a movie queen, Mae West had found her identity on the stage. Her 1926 play "Sex" -- which led to her arrest and jailing -- is being revived, beginning Thursday, by the Hourglass Group. And on Saturday, previews begin of "Dirty Blonde," a play about West by Claudia Shear at New York Theater Workshop. 

When she left her native New York for Hollywood to make her first movie, in 1932, Flaming Mae was almost 40 and had been performing before live audiences since the age of 5. "I'm not a little girl from a little town making good in a big town," she would famously state in Los Angeles. "I'm a big girl from a big town making good in a little town." In her baggage, along with the diamonds, velvets and bone corsets that became her trademark in her show "Diamond Lil," she packed the scripts for several plays she had created for Broadway, and a carefully cultivated notoriety. 

Three of her plays, "Sex," "Pleasure Man" and "Diamond Lil," had been judged unsuitable by the movies' moral guardians at the Hays Office. A darling of the tabloids, West was a master of shock tactics: hot clinches, suggestive lyrics, lolling around the stage in her underwear, using drag queens as actors (she wrote two plays, "The Drag" and "Pleasure Man," about cross-dressers). As a child actress in melodrama she had had plenty of chances to play fair-haired innocents but such paragons never appealed to her. Bad-girl roles did. Reversing the formula that virtue must triumph and sin be punished, West made heroines of the fallen women she usually portrayed. All the famous and interesting women in history, from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great, she maintained, had been considered bad. "The only good woman was Betsy Ross, and all she ever made was a flag." 

Growing up as a trouper in plays, revues, burlesque and vaudeville, West learned to thrive on adversity. When the lines others wrote for her vaudeville skits didn't suit, she wrote her own. When a starring vehicle failed to materialize, she created one for herself. When producers fled, she and a band of supporters formed their own Morals Production Company. Mounting debt and constant run-ins with both backstage and government censors seemed only to increase her determination. So long as the result was greater fame and more opportunities to perform, she made no objection when critics carped at her breaches of decorum. If Variety, in describing her dancing, branded her a "rough soubrette who did a 'Turkey' just a bit too coarse," it meant she was getting noticed. "Her wriggle cost Mae West her job" ran a 1912 newspaper headline, and although she faced a spell of unemployment, West knew she was making a name for herself. 

When her play "Sex" was raided by the New York police after a 41-week run and she found herself convicted of obscenity after a much-publicized trial, she exulted. Packed off to jail, she made the front page of every New York daily. "I expect it will be the making of me," she jauntily informed reporters as she began her 8-day sentence (reduced for good behavior from 10) in Welfare Island Women's Workhouse on what is now Roosevelt Island. "I expect to employ my time to good advantage . . . getting material for a new play." S EX," the first of West's plays to actually get produced, is a crudely written, frankly vulgar comedy-drama with a gritty underworld edge. Most of its power resides in its brazen don't-mess-with-me heroine, the beautiful blond prostitute Margy LaMont (originally played by West), who rises from a Montreal brothel to a rich suitor's Connecticut mansion. She refuses to be cowed by any man, including her pimp Rocky. "Just because you croaked a guy and got away with it, don't think I'm afraid of you," she warns Rocky. "You know if I start talking I can put a rope around that lily white neck of yours." Less polished and less articulate than the women West would play on screen, Margy shares with West's other femme fatale roles an intolerance for cant and hypocrisy. 

In tough-girl Brooklynese she demolishes the snobbish married socialite Clara, who dabbled in prostitution to add spice to her boring life: "The only difference between us is that you could afford to give it away." In preparing for her role as Margy LaMont in "Sex," Carolyn Baeumler has been studying Mae West's movie debut as Maudie Triplett in the 1932 "Night After Night." It was a performance that made George Raft squawk, "She stole everything but the camera." Ms. Baeumler said that the Mae West who played Maudie was "elastic, loose, not so fixed as she became in later pictures." "And she has a different energy from anybody else in the film," Ms. Baeumler added. Fresh from serving as the understudy of both Stella and Blanche in the recent New York Theater Workshop production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," Ms. Baeumler said that in "Sex" she is attempting a kind of duet, "playing Mae West playing Margy." The play, directed by Elyse Singer, will be staged in the Living Room at the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street. Courtroom dialogue taken from transcripts of the 1927 trial of West and the other "Sex" defendants will be included, as will several songs from Mae West movies in addition to the bluesy "Shake That Thing," which was in the original production at Daly's 63rd Street Theater. Nina Hellman, who co-founded the Hourglass Group with Ms. Singer and Ms. Baeumler, will be the singer. 

Those in the audience who are still pondering the recent contretemps between the current Mayor of New York and the Brooklyn Museum may experience a shock of recognition when they hear the magistrate declaring that "Sex" deserved censoring because it "was calculated to excite in the spectator impure imagination" and assuring the courtroom that "New York is the most moral city in the universe." In her three-person play "Dirty Blonde," which opens on Jan. 13, Ms. Shear takes the role of West but, she said, neither impersonates nor re-enacts her life story. Instead, she said, she will highlight major public and private moments in West's career, introducing some of the men West worked with (Bob Stillman will play her hapless short-term dance partner and husband, Frank Wallace), reprising some of West's songs and dances ("I definitely do a wiggle"), and finding points of commonality with her fellow Brooklynite. 

In an opening scene in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, where West was buried in 1980, Ms. Shear will play a West devotee who at her idol's grave meets an equally obsessed fan and cross-dresser portrayed by Kevin Chamberlin. As they pursue their Mae West quest, the connection between the two will deepen, Ms. Shear said. It was the writer and director James Lapine who first approached Ms. Shear with the idea of creating a script inspired by the diva who once posed as the Statue of Libido. Mr. Lapine said he had thought of Ms. Shear "because of the Brooklyn connection and because she is out of the norm." He is directing the play. Asked what most drew her to West, Ms. Shear said she puts moxie at the top of her list. She was also impressed by West's refusal ever to play victim (West balked when Paramount executives tried to switch the title of her celebrated movie to "He Done Her Wrong"). "Mae West was never devastated by a man," Ms. Shear emphasized. "She never looked in a mirror and said, 'I'm fat.' " 

Fans of Ms. Shear's much praised 1993 autobiographical play, "Blown Sideways Through Life," may recall that Ms. Shear, who is the same height (an even 5 feet) as Mae West, once tipped the scales at more than 200 pounds and called herself "the human sofa." In the 1920's, as in the 90's, the female body of choice was slim-hipped, straight-lined, leggy and lean. That was hardly Mae West's body type, but in her long-running Broadway hit "Diamond Lil" she found a way to bypass flapper chic by reviving 1890's-style amplitude and costuming herself like Lillian Russell, with an emphasis on long skirts, big hats, cinched waists and billowing curves. "She found out who she was when she dressed as her mother," Ms. Shear said. Ms. Shear thinks West missed out on several things "that really matter." "She never saw Paris," Ms. Shear said. "And she never really loved."

SEX IS BACK Show Business September 8, 1999 
Sex is coming back to the city, but this particular version isn't on HBO. Mae West's play Sex is about to open in New York, nearly 75 years after it first caused a stir and led to her arrest here. 

West wrote and in 1926 starred in Sex, a play which ran for nearly a year in New York. But Sex did more than that: West was charged with staging an obscene production and hauled off to jail. Now, 73 years later, Sex is being staged again in New York City. 

It's being presented by the appropriately named Hourglass Group, starring Carolyn Baeumler in the role created by West, and featuring Nina Hellman. And Sex, directed by Elyse Singer, is opening in a venue that in some ways may be particularly appropriate: a hotel. 

The show is slated to open on December 9 in the Living Room, in the Gershwin Hotel at 7 East 27th Street. But Singer, who got the rights to do the show, downplayed the idea that West was an actress who also happened to write a play or two. Instead, she said West was a playwright and screenwriter as well as a movie star all along. 

"Mae West wrote six plays that were produced on Broadway, as well as most of the screenplays for her films," Singer says. "Sex was her first full-length play." 

The play itself turned into a controversial production and ended up landing her on Welfare Island, where she served eight days in jail. Singer says West was charged and arrested for staging an obscene production, but that the motive was to stop her second show from opening. The Drag, West's second script, features a transvestite ball. 

Singer says she was able to get the rights to do the play. But it took some time. When she first saw the script it was unpublished, although it has been since. "In 1997, Hourglass began negotiating for the rights to produce the play independently," she says. 

The production was developed through New Georges and the New York Theatre Workshop. It follows the story of a prostitute and what Singer calls her "search for a better life." The story takes Margy LaMont from a Montreal brothel to a nightclub in Trinidad and a mansion in Connecticut. 

Along the way LaMont meets gangsters, molls, sailors and society. But Singer adds that the play also includes the fast-paced, wisecracking dialogue for which West became so famous. "The language ricochets like bullets." 

The play, in addition to re-introducing West's work, also reminds audiences that Mae West, as well as an actress, was a comic writer. And the participants in this production have worked together before. Singer directed Baeumler in another play about a high-powered performer, Love in the Void, based on Courtney Love's Internet posts. Baeumler is now the understudy for Blanche and Stella in New York Theatre Workshop's production of A Streetcar Named Desire

Hellman, as well as an actress, is a member of the band Cake Like, which recently released its third album Goodbye, So What. And Singer points out that all three women have something else in common with Mae West. 

"Were all 32 years old," Singer says, "the same age that West was when she wrote, produced and starred in Sex on Broadway." If Sex proves to be as brazen as this confession, we're in for a real treat. 

Mae West: The Woman Who Fashioned Herself a Big Star Newsday, Friday, January 7, 2000
The indelible icon of another era is the subject of a new play in New York. And her own raunchy 1926 play is being revived. 

By BLAKE GREEN, Newsday 

NEW YORK--Few quips have achieved the immortality of Mae West's sultry invitation, "Come up and see me sometime." She issued it first on the New York stage in 1928 in "Diamond Lil," and then a slight variation on the screen in "She Done Him Wrong," where its eternity was cemented by the guy on the receiving end: a virtually unknown actor named Cary Grant. 

From that same 1933 movie came two other memorable West-isms: Lady Lou, when asked, "Haven't you ever met a man who can make you happy?," retorted: "Sure. Lots of times." And, as reassurance to another shady lady, she observed, "When women go wrong, men go right after them." 

Pithy wisecracks are the actress' most obvious legacy. When you delve into Westmorabilia, it's amazing how many familiar witty, on-the-mark irreverences and clever double-entendres can be traced straight back to the blond, hourglass-shaped actress who wrote much of her own material and delivered it in her unique, slack-mouthed style. 

But beyond the racy quotes that sprang, tough-dame style from the side of her mouth, West's was a story of survival, persistence, independence and unshakable self-esteem. In her life--which ended in 1980, at 87--she became both an icon and a caricature. 

Thanks to the miracle of celluloid, we are able to see the brassy and brazen self-mocking vamp of the Hollywood films West made before the censors homogenized her act--the classic "My Little Chickadee," with W.C. Fields (1940), comes around regularly on television; many of the other films are available on video--and the campy creature who, at 85, insisted on playing a young chorus girl, a pathetic parody of her youthful self, in that 1978 bomb "Sextette." 

But before there was a Hollywood Mae West, there was the stage sensation who came up through the ranks of burlesque, vaudeville and revues (West began performing when she was 6). And it's that West who is back with us for a visit, via surrogates, in two current off-Broadway productions. 

"Dirty Blonde," an original play about West and her legacy, written by and starring her fellow 5-foot-2 Brooklynite Claudia Shear, opens Monday in the East Village at the New York Theatre Workshop. Shear plays herself on the trail of West (including making a visit to the Brooklyn mausoleum where the actress is entombed) and the living sex symbol at various stages in her colorful, yet oddly staid, life. 

Meanwhile, "Sex," West's own raunchy 1926 play that made her both famous and infamous (and landed her in jail), is being given what's believed to be its first New York revival by the appropriately named Hourglass Group in the Gramercy district's Gershwin Hotel. 

Margy LaMont, the free-spirited hooker West wrote for herself, is played by Carolyn Bauemler, and the production, with a cast of 10 playing two dozen roles, has incorporated transcripts from the 1927 court trial for indecency, as well as West's controversial use of drag queens in her casts. 

The set for "Sex," by George Xenos, plays off Salvador Dali's famous "Face of Mae West Which Mae Be Used as an Apartment," in which her lips are a sofa and her eyes set within picture frames. 

And, to add to the West lore, the paperback edition of "Becoming Mae West," Emily Wortis Leider's 1997 biography of the actress' early years, is about to be released in paperback by Da Capo Press. 

It was James Lapine's idea to do a piece on Mae West, says Shear, an old-movie buff who leapt at his proposal and spent a year and a half researching and developing the show, becoming, along the way, a huge fan not only of West's talent but also of her obsessiveness. "I don't think I've ever had a day in my life in which I was as focused as Mae West," Shear says with a laugh. 

                     * * * 

Lapine's direction of "Dirty Blonde," which also stars Kevin Chamberlin and Bob Stillman, began with his suggestion of an ending for the show: "Mae West kissing Mae West." One of these Maes is a guy--in keeping with West's enduring popularity as a subject for female impersonators. 

"It's interesting to me how a person's persona lasts through time," says Lapine, who admits, "I had thought of her in a kitschy, cliche way--like a cartoon. I had no idea she was a pretty amazing lady." 

"Pioneer" is a word often used when people talk about West's highly unconventional life. Arriving in Hollywood when she was 39, she famously announced straight away, "I'm not a little girl from a little town making good in a big town; I'm a big girl from a big town making good in a little town." 

She proved it: Only a few years later, she was the highest-paid woman in America, commanding $300,000 a picture. "She Done Him Wrong," the movie West made, "was the 'Star Wars' of its day," Shear says. "They had round-the-clock showings." 

The Hourglass Group chose "Sex," says Elyse Singer, its director, "because the piece has the feeling of giving birth to a star--the creation of an icon"--importantly, the self-creation. One of the founders of a company that operates on a shoestring, she says it was also pleasing to discover that West had her own difficulties financing her first play. 

Sadly, once West created her image, she was unwilling to change it, deluding herself that she had defied the passage of time. "She was not someone who would take smaller, character roles to work," says Shear, who becomes a teetering, gargoyled West in "Dirty Blonde." "That's the part that makes you hurt for her, but there's something about her that makes me think, 'Whatever.' This is about the power of Mae West, and I say, 'Mae, good for you.' "


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