It’s surprising that the encounter between screen goddess Mae West and avant-garde photographer Diane Arbus is only now being fictionalised more than 50 years on. One made a career out of looking good through heightened artifice, the other from looking at ordinary, even marginalised people and revealing their true selves. They were intelligent women of very different generations, with very different ideas about how to be independent.
Melita Jurisic and Diana Glenn in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Arbus & West. Photo © Jeff Busby
Arbus’ photos and feature story from that day in 1964 give tantalising hints of an extraordinary clash of ideas and meeting of minds. Stephen Sewell’s new play Arbus & Westis an insightful, funny, occasionally obvious and delightfully elusive interpretation of what may have happened, brought to life by three talented, experienced actors on top form.
West and Ruby, her dresser and de facto PA and friend, are expecting a male photographer, so when Arbus arrives for the photoshoot the encounter almost ends before it begins. West, dolled up in satin, lace and long platinum blonde waves, is immediately suspicious of this woman with short hair dressed in unflattering masculine clothes....