She the People
At The Second City UP Comedy Club
By Dan Zeff
Chicago – The all-female revue at the Second City UP Comedy Club lays its cards plainly on the table with the title of its show—“She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves.” If the title isn’t explicit enough, the program specifies that all the writers and performers, as well as the director, assistant director, music director and sound designer, lighting designer, and stage manager are all women.
So the ladies are in charge from top to bottom and some viewers entering the theater may understandably expect an evening with a pronounced feminist agenda. But audiences need not brace themselves to endure two hours of guy bashing and soap box complaining and accusing. Not to mince words, this is one of the best Second City revues this millennium, superbly written, wonderfully performed, deftly staged, and best of all, continuously funny.
The humor never indulges in cheap shot barbs, kneejerk sneering, self-righteousness, or whining. The sketch material touches familiar bases—boyfriend trouble, mother-daughter relationships, eating disorders, sexism in the workplace, feminine hygiene, female friendships, and male insensitivity (both personal and political). The topics are not new but the revue explores them with fresh, comic, and insightful flourishes. Some of the best bits are running gags that lampoon women in commercials, dramatizing the way products are presented to manipulate a gal’simage of herself through clothing, makeup, and the like.
The language sometimes includes four-letter words but easy-laugh vulgarity has been avoided throughout the evening. The performers aren’t afraid to point a satirical finger at their gender. The revue satirizes females for buying into this image making as much as it tweaks magazine and TV commercials for subtly or not too subtly maneuvering how they should feel about themselves. One sketch is a very funny riff on the word “bitch” and how it exists in the female lexicon.
There is an edge to much of the material but it’s never abrasive. This is not a cautionary rather than an angry show, though it does build some attitude toward the end of the evening and ends on a hey-girl-we-shall-overcome fist-waving burst of emotion. But mostly material relies on the shock of recognition to make its point. The political scene got only passing acknowledgement and I counted no more than two quick jibes at Donald Trump.
The production is presented in the conventional Second City style, with a continuum of sketches and a few blackouts, some music and dancing, and improvisation interludes. Improv is always a chancy enterprise, especially if the audience is sluggish or the performers go dry trying to bring the improve ideas to life. Maybe this cast was just hot on opening night, but every improvisation item worked, including bringing audience members (the trickiest bit of all) into the sketch.
While the revue doesn’t confront men stridently, there are skits that point the finger at guys for being smug, hassling, and sex hungry. There is one short hilarious film clip that shows a rapid sequence of men having physical accidents that involve their private arts, which I think tickled the females in the crowd more than the males.
The cast consists of Carisa Barreca, Alex Bellisle, Katie Caussin, Maria Randazzo, Alex J. Roston, and Kimberly Michelle Vaughn. The show does a super job of shaping the material for performer groupings, of various sizes, from full ensemble to smaller bits like a terrific rap duet by Vaughn and Boston, and some skits involving a single performer.
It would be unjust to favor one performer over the others as the review’s most valuable player. For a while I leaned toward Vaughn as the first among equals for her versatility and tart persona, but before the night was over every member of the cast soared in at least one solo bit. Pressed to the wall, I would pick Randazzo as the star-in-waiting. Her solo sketch wandering through the audience as a kooky maiden wearing a tutu and carrying a miniature ukulele while tossing off a free-form monologue was high among the evening’s numerous golden moments. And I think she was the performer who wore a full-length dinosaur costume that was a total hoot.
The writing credits go to the six performers, plus Marla Caceres, Tien Tran, Rashawn Nadine Scott, Lauren Walker, and Carly Heffernan, who is also the director. Heffernan wins applause for her savvy orchestration of the material, shrewdly guiding her exemplary ensemble from realism to fantasy to farce to mock pathos with an natural-appearing flow that never allows a dip in the production’s momentum, and this is a longer than usual Second City show at almost two hours.
The physical staging is traditional Second City, with props made up mostly of wooden chairs (a Second City trademark) and faux doors at the back of the stage. Mary Mahoney keeps the rock-tinged music coming as musical director and sound designer. I didn’t see a credit for the visuals, and though this is a verbal show, the lighting effects and projections enrich the texture of production.
The opening night audience was attentive and seemed to be enjoying itself thoroughly, but in an adult and urbane manner. We were spared the raucous look-how-hip-I-am tumult from typical opening night denizens who consider that their cheerleading reactions are more important than what is emerging from the stage.
Recent revues at the Second City mainstage and ETC theaters have been rewarding but I can’t recall a show that had clicked this well in both performance and content. “She the People” isn’t just a niche gimmick concept, it’s Second City at its creative and performing best, disarming any patrons expecting to suffer through an extended feminist screed. The troupe deserves a permanent place in the Second City production universe.
The show gets a rating of
“She the People” runs through April 1 at the Second City UP Comedy Club at Piper’s Alley, 230 West North Avenue. Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $26. Call 312 337 3992 or visit www.secondcity.com.
Contact Dan: ZeffDaniel@Yahoo.com
Like Dan on Facebook: http://facebook.com/ZeffDaniel
Follow Dan on Twitter: www.twitter.com#ZeffDaniel
Want to read more reviews?…Visit www.Theaterinchicago.com