Chicago Theatre Review
Lesbian Lit Meets Pulpy Potboiler
The Secretaries – About Face Theatre
It’s the early 1990’s and a new dream job calls Patty Johnson to Big Bone, Oregon at the Cooney Lumber Mill. Armed with excellent typing and stenographic skills, an expertise at operating office equipment, not to mention a perky personality and a comely countenance, Patty is very excited to become the newest addition to the office secretarial pool. She joins her new friends and fellow workers Amber, Peaches, Dawn and super supervisor Susan. However, despite their pajama parties, united dedication to healthy nutrition and a sisterly co-worker camaraderie, something’s not quite right.
Relationships turn tense and become strained while pressure for professional excellence, romantic involvement and conformity overtake the ladies. Soon some shocking secrets are revealed and Patty discovers that being a Cooney girl involves much more than typing letters and Xeroxing reports. Hidden away in the north woods world of lumberjacks and tall timber is a horrific way of life based on murder and plaid jackets. Blood flows as the ladies prime their chainsaws and swing their axes, strewing the stage with butchered bodies, black humor and sapphic sex.
This dark comedy, written by a group of playwrights, collectively known as The Five Lesbian Brothers (Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominque Dibbell, Peg Healey and Tony Award-winning writer of Broadway’s “Fun Home,” Lisa Kron), is a parody of pulp fiction and lesbian literature. It gives a nod to those exploitive, over-the-top 20th century thriller films of the 20th century. The characters are just about as realistic as a Betty Boop cartoon and their story is fierce and funny. Stripping down to their underwear at the drop of a hat, these five Big Bone babes take office politics to a new level of hilarity mixed with revulsion. The play is satire in its lowest form…and deliciously, wickedly delightful.
The cast is exellent, led by the always wonderful Kelli Simpkins (“Spill,” “Cocked”) as the powerful, seductive and mysterious Susan. A dead ringer for TV’s Jane Lynch, Ms. Simpkins grabs the audience’s attention every time she walks onstage. Erin Barlow, a Jeff Award-winner for her work in the Hypocrites’ “All Our Tragic,” and a standout in their production of “Three Sisters,” is impressive and empathetic as Patty Johnson. Sadieh Rifai is wonderfully funny as Peaches, the secretary whose weight becomes an issue, due to an male supervisor who demands that his secretarial pool be a bevy of slim beauties. Peaches is a sympathetic character whose unstoppable hunger becomes her tragic flaw. Meghan Reardon, a standout in Goodman’s “Ask Aunt Susan,” plays the bitchy blond beauty, Ashley. Able to switch her allegiance on a dime, Ms. Reardon is a dynamic player in this comedy. And as both Dawn and hunky lumberjack Buzz, Lauren Sivak meets the challenge of playing both genders, barely containing either of her characters’ sexual desire for Patty.
Nicely directed by Bonnie Metzgar aboard William Boles’ flexible scenic design, the production flows smoothly, thanks to Miles Plaski’s infectious, toe-tapping soundtrack that strings together the production’s swift scene changes. The artistry of Mieka Van Der Ploeg’s detailed costume and wig/hair designs are the crowning touch and add so much to this production.
This isn’t a play for everyone’s taste. But for those liberal theatergoers who like their comedy dark, bombastic and on the spicy side, with a fair amount of violence and gore thrown in, this is the show for them. It’s an hour and forty-five minutes of pure escape entertainment that’s tongue-in-cheek lesbian lit comedy meeting passionate, pulpy potboiler.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 6-June 12 by About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by visiting or calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.aboutfacetheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com