Second City UP Comedy Club
She the People
At The Second City UP Comedy Club by Dan Zeff
Chicago –Second City has opened its second version of “She the People,” the all-female, all feminist comedy revue at the company’s spacious UP Comedy Club. The revue is subtitled ‘“Girlfriends’ Guide to Doing It for Themselves” as further clarification of the evening’s intent, in case some patrons entered the theater unaware they were about to witness a 100-minute in-your-face exploration of the often troubling state of the female gender in today’s American culture.
The first She the People revue opened in September 2017 and the new production follows the original format—six brash and versatile women whirlwinded through a continuous rush of high energy short skits and songs and improvisations, all dealing with facets of the female experience in our land. The company brings back three performers from the first show—Carisa Barreca, Alex Bellisle, and Katie Caussin—who are joined by newcomers Mary Catherine Curran, Sayjal Joshi, and Kaye Winks. The ladies have also written most of the material.
The show breaks little ground subject-wise. There are riffs on the familiar themes of women exploited by TV commercials, conflicts between mothers and daughters, lots of satire on society’s obsession with the female body both sexually and aesthetically, women’s rights on many fronts, female friendships. Male-female romantic relationships were touched upon, though not as often as one might expect, and I didn’t find any nasty “get the guys” animus in the show. The revue pretty much stays within the female world and there isn’t much anti-male venom. The show is more concerned with how women devote so much psychic energy trying to meet unrealistic standards in body image and social and employment aspirations, not to mention discrimination against gay women and similar minorities.
Like the first revue, this presentation holds little back in raunchiness. The f-word and the b-word are employed with ferocious frequency, getting a laugh every time they are used, no matter how extraneous to the skit or monologue. It’s as though the show is demonstrating that the deluge of obscenities is a hallmark of the female’s declaration of independence. But being free to swear as gratuitously as a man seems like a very modest victory for women’s liberation.
In an evening of so many brief comic bits, the quality inevitably will be uneven. The best bits included the full ensemble lined up to say they are sorry for attitudes and views they shouldn’t have to apologize for. It’s a rapid fire sequence of topical bull’s-eyes. I would have enjoyed repeats of some of the zingers that whizzed by so quickly that a few eluded me. When the cast is in top form, they are very good indeed. Some of the more gross interjections I could have done without. They weren’t funny, they just tried to be funny.
The six women work very well together. The pace of the show under Carly Hefferman’s direction is rapid fire but I didn’t catch any glitches on opening night. The production was in great shape, the material pouring out with an unforced precision. Such fluency suggests many hours of intense rehearsal, but on opening night the ladies were ready.
The performers all share a brash, high decibel stage personality. Nuance is not a hallmark of the revue, nor is it intended to be. Few heartstrings are plucked. The audience clearly is in the mood for a let-her-rip performance and the large percentage of females in the audience contributed that screeching audience reaction that is so common on daytime TV shows like ‘The Ellen De Generes Show.” The female patrons in the Comedy Club clearly were familiar with the topics skewered and didn’t hesitate to roar their recognition and approval at the satirical jabs from the stage.
Curiously, the best bit of the evening had nothing to do with the state of the union, women-wise. Mary Catherine Curran performed an improvisation on the Six Degrees of Separation party game in which she connects improbable subjects like entertainment stars with a rapid-fire linking of names that have no outward relationship. Curran used her bottomless store of trivia in the service of a blinding quick mind that had the audience cheering at each of her unlikely connections. It was amazing.
The revue’s physical production is colorful and flashy, with mod abstract projections and film bits connecting the skits enhanced by gaudy lighting effects designed by Abby Beggs and musical accents from music director/composer/sound designer Mary Mahoney.
“She the People” must be a very satisfying experience for the actors. Performers and spectators are on the same page from the revue’s first moments and the crowd willingly accepted even the weaker material. The result is a love-in between the cast and the viewers. The material is pointed but never mean spirited and certainly nothing that would make the males in the house feel uncomfortable. Indeed, it might be a profitable learning experience for the men as they observe the exploration of issues that mean much to women but comparatively little to guys. If there is a moral to the show, it’s that being a young woman in today’s society can hard work. But it helps to have a sense of humor, on both sides of the footlights.
The show gets a rating of.
“She the People” is playing an open run at the Second City UP Comedy Club, 230 West North Avenue. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Ticket prices begin at $31. Call (312) 337-3992 or visit www.secondcity.com.