By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Dec 10, 2011, at 2:24 AM Updated on 12/10/11 at 4:51 AM
Putting on a play written by Mae West and titled “Sex” might not strike the average person as typical theatrical fare for the holiday season.
But actress Sara Wilemon would politely beg to differ.
“One of the things about this time of year is that it’s seen as a time of renewal, of regeneration,” she said. “And that’s one of the main themes of this show. The main character is someone who is determined to follow the path that is best for her, who isn’t going to make herself over according to the demands of society.
“And besides,” Wilemon said, smiling, “isn’t sex really the gift that keeps on giving?”
It’s a crack that might be worthy of one of West’s own saucy quips. And it points out that there is a lot of humor in this 1926 play that the Nightingale Theater opens Friday.
“Sex” was first presented in Tulsa in 2003, in a production by TheatreClub at the Nightingale. Most of the cast are new to the play; only Wilemon, director John Cruncleton and actor Craig Walters were in the original show.
For Wilemon, this production offers her a relatively unusual opportunity of returning to a role. She had never acted in a play before auditioning for the role of Margy, the part West played when the show premiered.
Margy is a working-class prostitute determined to find a way to better her lot in life. As her adventures take her from Canada to the Caribbean to Connecticut, she mingles with all levels of society, from low-life gangsters to rich men’s wives.
In the process, she discovers that using one’s sexuality as a means of commerce is not limited to the women who walk the streets.
“This was the play that really got Mae West noticed,” Wilemon said. “It had been running for a year when it was raided by the police and she ended up going to jail for a few days on an indecency charge – which just made it more of a success.
“And because Mae West wrote for this persona she had created,” she said, “there isn’t a lot variation in this character. That’s one of the things that has been fun about revisiting this play – discovering that maybe there are some different layers to this woman underneath that hard-shell exterior.”
Appearing in “Sex” the first time led Wilemon to explore the world of vaudeville and burlesque. She’s brought a bit of that world to the Nightingale, which in recent years has presented modern burlesque shows.
“John (Cruncleton) is giving the show a kind of a vaudeville feel, in the comedy, in the way the musical numbers fit into the show,” she said. “And we have a great cast that can bring a lot to the play, since there is a lot of room for improvising.”
Besides Wilemon and Walter, the Nightingale Theater’s production of “Sex” includes Joseph Gomez, Cassie Hollis, Jeremy Sheldon, Noah Richardson, Sara Cruncleton, Andy Axewell, Amy Page, Chris Williams, Stephen Nuchia and Jessica Holloway.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Dec. 14-17
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St..
Tickets: $10 at the door.
Wednesday “Holiday Hump Day Special”: $10 for two with popcorn and Boone’s Farm wine.