In a month when spunky spirits are said to roam the earth, South Whidbey welcomes none other than the notorious Mae West.
Reincarnated on stage at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, the larger-than-life (and death) actress has her everlasting say in “SEX,” the melodrama/musical comedy she wrote and starred in almost 100 years ago.
This time, local Whidbey actress Suzi Dixon brings the story to life in a cheeky concoction that runs through Saturday, Oct. 26. The story follows the adventures – and misadventures – of Montreal prostitute Margy LaMont, originally played by West, as she dashes the globe from Canada to Trinidad to New England.
Director and producer Edward Jordan adapted and directs the current version of the play after racking up 11 international screenwriting awards and numerous accolades to date. With this production of “SEX,” he joins forces again with his “Bollywood and Vine” film star and veteran actress Skye Aubrey. She takes on the part of Clara, a high-society dame who was caught “slumming it” in the seedy part of Montreal and becomes beholden to prostitute Margy for saving her life.
When “SEX” first premiered onstage in New York City, America was just seven years past the suffrage amendment giving women the right to vote, and West’s play jolted “polite society” on a new level. By condoning a newfound viewpoint that “fallen women” need not end up in ruin and disgrace, the play wreaked havoc on accepted norms.
Jordan notes the themes that still reverberate with today’s society, saying that West’s play, though written in 1926, could have been ripped from today’s headlines.
“Mae West was so much more than ‘Come up and see me sometime,’” he said. “Throughout her life, she was light years ahead of the times, fearlessly speaking about taboo subjects: date rape, white privilege, criminal justice reform, prostitution, police corruption, suicide, drug addiction and, of course, sexuality in all its glorious orientations.”
As both author and star of the 1926 play, West took the fall for its inherent disobedience and potential to corrupt “the morals of youth.” When a grand jury determined the play was obscene, indecent, immoral and impure, West arrived in a limousine to serve her 10-day jail sentence – clad in silk underwear and strung with garlands of roses.
Those who think only West could inhabit the character of Margy LaMont in “SEX” haven’t seen Dixon strutting her stuff onstage at WICA. A year-round resident of Whidbey Island, now making her third appearance at WICA, Dixon brings an eclectic array of stage experience, ranging from cabaret to Kurt Weill’s “Beggar’s Opera” and the campy satirical musical “Forbidden Broadway.”
Dixon’s personal life is just as multi-faceted as her onstage persona, being a Paris-trained chef as well as an instructor who teaches people in prisons to train service dogs for those with disabilities. She also happens to be an expert horse-whisperer who drove a team of Friesian horses in the parade scenes of “The Hunger Games.”
Taking on the role of Mae West/Margy LaMount at WICA this month is no surprise to islanders who know Dixon. The same goes for other home-grown talent performing in “SEX” this month. WICA Artistic Director Deanna Duncan explains that even after the organization received Regional Theatre status that expanded its reach to audiences, artists and craftspeople across the country, local talent is on par with its growth.
“I cannot stress enough, however, that we are blessed that so many incredibly talented professional or professional- level actors, directors, and designers call Whidbey Island home,” Duncan said.
She also explained the inspiration for bringing productions like “SEX” to WICA, along with upcoming shows this season: David Ossman’s adaptation of “It’s a Wonderful Life”; “Red,” directed by Vito Zingarelli and featuring Andrew Grenier; “A Doll’s House”; and “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”
“The inspiration for the season was sparked by one great story that captured my heart and mind and the desire to honor the women pioneers who defined, refined, or shattered our ‘traditional’ roles,” Duncan said.
WICA Executive Director Verna Everitt encourages awareness of the center’s bold new programs, such as the Humanities Series that explores current issues and provides a space for civil discourse. WICA also ensures that art is accessible to everyone through dedicated “Pay What You Will” performances, discounted tickets for seniors and free tickets for youth ages 18 and younger.