Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Strong Showcase of Powerfully Funny Women, Second City's 'She the People' Could Stand to Be Far More Kick-in-the-Ballsy -- Chicago Comedy / Theater Review

Sketch Comedy Review

She the People
Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves
UP Comedy Club at Second City, Chicago
Thru April 1

There really wouldn't be a wrong time to see a comedy show entirely written and performed by smart, funny and diversely-talented women.

But boy, and more so girl, does this feel like the right time.

Apologies for not finding the perfect adjective here--and I think a female would best make any such proclamation--but these past few months have been rather {momentous, empowering, retaliatory, ???} for women.

Certainly, I recognize that it's too soon since the Harvey Weinstein balloon was popped, and many similar dominoes began to fall, to suggest things have drastically changed.

Revealing and addressing horrendous wrongs is not the same as making things entirely right.

But on Saturday, when I began writing this, it was heartening to see huge turnouts and powerful speeches at Women's Marches around the world.

Photo credit on all: Todd Rosenberg
And while hoping things really will change in the way women are treated, respected, paid, heard, valued, etc., it would seem that--without suggesting that denigration, harassment, assault and worse are matters to be joked about--Second City's new all-female sketch comedy show, She the People, should have plenty of topical material from which to render astute insights.

Including the p---y grabber in the White House. 

Understandably, She the People--subtitled Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves--was in development and largely written (by 10 women) well prior to reports about Weinstein's egregious behavior broke last October. 

And according to a staff member I spoke with within the UP Comedy Club at Second City, the show's genesis also predated Trump's election. 

So on several levels, it was welcome that much of the material was not ripped from the headlines. Being too obvious, or didactic, is rarely riveting.

Across nearly two hours, the six-woman cast--Carisa Barreca, Alex Bellisle, Katie Caussin, Maria Randazzo, Alexis J. Roston, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn--demonstrated not only much wit & wisdom, but impressively adroit range in acting out a variety of situations, characters, etc.

There were many excellent sketches, including ones about fearing turning into one's mother, a wrenching self-debate over eating a piece of cake and pals badmouthing a colleague's boyfriend after a breakup.  

As with Second City's still-running mainstage review, Dream Freaks Fall From Space--which I saw and reviewed in November--musical numbers often interworked with the comedy.

Roston and Vaughn led the best of these, a song ostensibly called "I'll Shake My Brain in Your Face" that was really smart on many levels. 

Also first-rate--though perhaps not needing a reprise after intermission--was a series of satires on the banal and often demeaning ways women are depicted in TV commercials (for shampoo, feminine hygiene products, "boner pills," etc.). 

And not to suggest She the People completely avoided hot button issues, there was a sketch utilizing quite shrewd metaphors to reference abortion, which I thought worked quite well.

So within the comfortable environs of the Second City's UP club, offering a first-class experience in every way, this all-woman revue definitely makes for a fun evening and enjoyable show. The talent is undeniable and the laughs should be many.

But as I watched it Thursday night--the same evening the world champion Golden State Warriors were at Dream Freaks Fall From Space; I didn't see them--I began to wonder, and even asked someone afterward, if Second City makes it a policy for their shows not to risk offending anyone.

Let me be clear, I am not a comedy writer and those involved in conceiving, creating and performing this show--as well as Dream Freaks..., which oddly avoids much Trump-related material--are not only far more talented than me in this regard, but much more shrewd in a practical business sense connected to comedic performance.

I get that green money comes from both red and blue leaning patrons, including men and women of vastly different political and social perspectives.   

But given the recent comeuppances wreaked upon Mrsssrs. Weinstein, Lauer, Rose, CK, Batali, etc., etc., it would seem some of the material in She the People should have been made me--or other men--a tad uncomfortable.

I don't mean cheaply or guilelessly, but with an acerbic, incisive edge the women onstage clearly had within them.

None of the recently-outed predators were directly referenced, and--even far more broadly--the mistreatment, denigration, subjugation and abuse of women that needs to be eliminated was only lightly and slightly broached.

Nothing I saw suggested the women of She the People couldn't have figured out some ways to artfully--yet quite powerfully--address recent revelations, long-term realities and uprisings without joking about things that aren't funny.

And in not daring to offend anyone, or possibly prompt some patrons to walk out, keeping the comedy safe kept the show from being truly great as socially commentative, contemporary art.

Not just in terms of being funny, or topical, but truly insightful, as the best comedy should be.

At at time when, hopefully, women's voices are being heard louder than before, She the People--despite being quite good, and welcome, as it stands--would be considerably better if it truly tapped into the scream. 

It seems somewhat wrong for me to say a show comprised entirely of women should be more ballsy, but I think there are those out there--perhaps even me--for whom it should far more forcefully feel "kick-in-the-ballsy."

No comments: