Prologue Theatre Company’s deliciously detailed production of Mae West’s Sex transports you back to a fringy flapper era where good girls go bad and bad girls try to go good, but ultimately, bad girls just wanna have fun.
It’s like “Showgirls,” circa 1920.
Well, not *really* (don’t go expecting Charleston-inspired pole dancing); however, just like that Elizabeth Berkley classic, this bawdy work was panned by the critics and jeered by the morality police, but the audiences came out in droves to see what all the hub-bub was about.
Prologue’s production, creatively staged at the historic North Lakeside Cultural Center by director Margo Gray, is more charming than cheap. Time only magnifies the creaky structure of West’s novice work, with inorganic emotional shifts to merely advance the plot (such as a prissy society housewife suddenly empathizing with the hooker who’s preparing to wed her son) and the heavy reliance on stock secondary characters. However, the care and detail that goes into this production makes it an endearing evening of entertainment.
As Margy, the pragmatic hooker with a heart of gold and balls of steel, Jes Bedwinek follows Mae West’s lead, but doesn’t go into camp. While the role really requires a star to make the show spin, Bedwinek takes a more human approach, which mostly works. Thankfully, the bawdy line readings still resonate. And you begin to feel for Bedwinek’s Margy as she reluctantly starts to let down her guard for a young suitor, despite him not knowing her less-than-reputable past.
Another standout in the cast is Anne Sheridan Smith as the Connecticut sophisticate who has more in common with Margy than she may care to acknowledge. Her frenzied, uptight performance plays nicely against Bedwinek’s sly Margy.
However, the star of this production is the venue. Generally, i’m not a fan of promenade staging, but Gray has used the sprawling Cultural Center effectively. Audience members get up and move around only a few times to signify a key scene change, and during the transitions, actors keep the momentum going by drunkenly singing in the hallway or flirting with you from the doorways. The inclusion of an intermission, however, seems a misstep, only for the break in atmosphere that’s been so thoughtfully set.
Kudos to set and costume designer Carrie Hardin — everything from the champagne glasses to the fringe-lined dresses to the dollar bills is vintage ’20s.
“Sex” by Mae West plays through November 21 at North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan Rd. For more information, visit prologuetheatreco.org.