Through October 13
SEX Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre/Shaw Festival
By Augustine Warner
This is the Shaw Festival.
Even George Bernard Shaw would certainly have a little problem with naming a show “Sex,” but not a problem with a show about sex.
See: “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” a fairly frequent Shaw production.
Mae West chose an accurate name for the show since it’s what it’s all about, for cash, for love, for psychic enjoyment.
The story revolves around a prostitute, Margy LaMont (Diana Donnelly); a pimp and killer, Rocky Waldron (Kristopher Bowman); an heir, Jimmy Stanton (Julia Course); and, a “society dame” who is raped and beaten by Rocky, Clara Smith (Fiona Byrne).
In the original New York City production, West was LaMont.
The 1926 story revolves around Rocky’s high-end brothel in Montreal.
That’s a time when what’s perceived, today, as a pretty wide-open city was an utterly corrupt and wide-open city.
Some of the prostitutes are victims, like the doomed Agnes (Jonathan Tan), while others see advantages to the life when there are really no alternatives.
It’s a great place for corrupt cops like Dawson (Ric Reid), who leach off the human sales.
Margy likes the benefits of the life and is desperately afraid of Rocky because she has seen what he’s willing to do, without qualm or conscience.
At the same time, she’s willing to move to another life and certainly the naval officer and customer, Lieutenant Gregg (André Sills), is willing to be that path to another life, knowing what she is.
Margy winds up in Port of Spain, then Trinidad, along with Gregg and some of the other central characters.
There, she meets Stanton and decides he’s her ticket to respectability, to rich respectability because he’s only on the island to inspect a plantation which supplies his giant family company, based in Connecticut.
He proposes and she accepts and they head back to the palatial estate to meet mom and dad.
(Spoiler alert) The twist is that Margy knows mom, knows her as Clara Smith, the violent rape victim back in Montreal.
Things don’t go well.
Margy accepts that this won’t go well and catches a life ring to another life, more fitting.
The strange aspect of “Sex,” isn’t particularly its story, since there is a lot of less visible human trafficking around but how modern it is, nearly a century later.
There is also the class warfare subplot, the wealthy Stantons and this mysterious young woman who arrives as part of their son’s luggage, about whom they know nothing.
In those days, people could re-create themselves or at least try to do so.
That’s no longer possible in this computerized social media age, where there are few secrets although perhaps more tolerance toward remaking yourself.
Isn’t that what the great, elite institutions of higher education do?
Here, Margy just decides Connecticut won’t give someone like her another chance, choosing instead Australia and Gregg.
What was really at issue in the court fight over “Sex” and West’s other shows is that she was writing and performing about reality, a reality denied by many “bluestockings” and the censors of Hollywood when she moved to the movie capital to tell similar stories.
It’s the cultural clash of this time also, with many in power trying to limit women and what they can do or say in their private lives.
You can see “Sex” and read into it any views of your own about the story and its applicability to current events and debate it when the president takes much heat and opprobrium over his private life and adulteries, amidst multiple marriages and a vice president who won’t be alone with any woman other than his wife.
This is a show which likely gets lively conversation in advance and certainly will after the curtain drops.
Director Peter Hinton-Davis has some strong performances from Bowman, Donnelly, Sills and Reid.
He also has strong set work from Eo Sharp.
I do not understand his decision to cast Course as Jimmy Stanton, unless he’s suggesting something beyond West’s Script.
See <b and be prepared for long conversations.
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