The ladies take dictation and lives in this enjoyable satire at About Face Theatre.
The camp is thick enough to cut with a chainsaw in this lesbian pulp parody by the writers’ collective known as the Five Lesbian Brothers (a group that includes Lisa Kron, now a Tony winner for the musical Fun Home). Patty (Erin Barlow) is the new girl in the secretarial pool at the Cooney Lumber Mill in Big Bone, Oregon, and wants nothing more than to be accepted by the girls. She’ll have to prove herself to the tough-but-fair executive secretary Susan Curtis (Kelli Simpkins)—and she’ll have to outshine perpetual Secretary of the Month Ashley (Meghan Reardon) to get there. But it’s the final test that’s the killer.
The Secretaries was written in 1994, and its references to SlimFast shakes and scenes in video stores fell all the more satirical two decades later. Bonnie Metzgar’s staging for About Face, the play’s Chicago premiere, gets the tone just right in sending up pop-culture tropes of hyperfemininity and lesbianism alike. Metzgar’s gleefully committed cast, which also includes Sadieh Rifai and Lauren Sivak, is near ideal; it’s especially fun to see Simpkins, who often tends toward earthy, no-nonsense types, going dark as taskmistress Susan. But at nearly two hours without an intermission, the production can feel a bit slack and repetitive in places. You might wish the Brothers had taken a few more slices at the script.
About Face Theatre at Theater Wit. By The Five Lesbian Brothers. Directed by Bonnie Metzgar. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; no intermission.