When one thinks of a typical secretary, visions of an obedient, attractive, young, ample bosomed, sweater set wearing, blonde usually comes to mind. After viewing About Face Theatre’s new dark comedy The Secretaries, add murderous, chainsaw yielding vamps to the mix. Drop those steno pads, kick off the stilettos, and lose the pearls, these Girl Friday’s kick ass and generate megawatt laughs! Initially created in 1994 by the playwriting team The Five Lesbian Brothers, otherwise know as Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healy and Tony-winner Lisa Kron of Fun Home, The Secretaries skewers corporate culture with a less than subtle hint of Sapphic perpetuity. Skillfully directed by Bonnie Metzgar, this Slim Fast swigging steno pool generates pointed laughs from a script as precise as the tips of their stiletto heels. Blending elements of Lesbian pulp novels with eccentric characters, think Showtime television’s The L Word meets David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, The Secretaries is as scandalously outrageous as it is tremendous entertaining. Camp and delightful, from start to finish.
The story is set in the corporate offices of Cooney Lumber Mill in Big Bone, Oregon. The workplace is a buzz of activity with the addition of new girl, Patty Johnson (Erin Barlow) a doppelganger of Marcia Cross’ Bree Van De Kamp of Desperate Housewives fame. Speaking of desperate, Patty is working overtime to fit in with the other office girls; aloof blonde, Ashley (Meghan Reardon) whose pencil skirts are as sharp as her dry wit, Dawn (Lauren Sivak) a lady with no understanding of comfortable personal space, and Peaches (Sadieh Rifai) the put upon, over-weight, over-worked and under-appreciated member of this complicated quartet. The real shenanigans begin when Office Manager, Susan (Kelli Simpkins) meets Patty personally. Susan is clearly the Alpha of the office, the authoritative ringleader power lesbian who could go toe to toe with Glee’s Jane Lynch’s Coach Sue Sylvester any day, and win. Patty realizes something is not quite right almost immediately, but needs the job and is reticent about rocking the status quo boat. Upon lunching with the girls over cans of Slim Fast, Ashley pulls a gun out of her purse and quips, “I only need eighteen more months of an unblemished attendance record for the assault rife, fully automatic.” Oh dear, Patty.
Patty’s real problems begin when she starts dating a lumberjack named Buzz (also played by Lauren Sivak). Insisting on a girls night out to help them bond, Patty finds herself immersed in a naughty nighty game of Twister. Watch out for the “right hand, red.” Susan next insists the ladies all sign a celibacy pact for unity, instead of running to Human Resources for assistance, Patty reluctantly agrees. Who would have guessed the color coordinated pink cardigans each lady receives and wears with pride when reaching the lofty heights of Secretary of the Month would be such an albatross around their necks. Timed with each ladies synced monthly cycle, an “accident” occurs at the Mill. That’s right, this sanctuary of secretaries are actually a homicidal cult. Justifying their behavior, Susan scolds Patty with the harsh truth. “We don’t kill them because they’re bad people, we kill them because we’re bad.” “How did a decent girl like me get involved with a cult of murderous secretaries?” Patty screeches back before succumbing to her more basic instincts and willingly joins the club. Adorned in granny panties, junk food and more stage blood then a touring review of Carrie, The Secretaries are extreme feminist activism, personified. “Good girls don’t stab people, Patty.” Uh-oh……these good girls are so much more fun when they are being bad.
Set to a soundtrack of top 1980’s and early 1990’s hits, including Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” Mister Mister’s “Take These Broken Wings,” and Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” just to name a few, sound designer Miles Polaski’s creatively murderous mix tape makes the thinly veiled misogyny on display completely forgivable. Costume designer Mieka Van Der Ploeg clearly had a field day dressing these dangerous dames. Plaids, stilettos, broaches, pencil skirts, playing up all the visual stereotypes of the typical office assistant to the extreme. William Boles rotating set design was a visual play reminiscent of Barbie’s Dream house, only in this case, it housed the flavor of a purposeful nightmare. Rachel K. Levy’s clever lighting design impressed. Her take on mimicking a functional copy machine is a moment of seedy comic genius. Deven Casey Hartley’s keen choreography and Steve Wisegarver’s brazen fight choreography are of note as well.
It is next to impossible to turn on any popular music station today and not hear the new “Dangerous Women” song by pop princess of the moment Ariana Grande. This would have been a fitting theme for this docile by day secretarial pool which morphs into a well designed team of chainsaw wielding lumberjack killers every 29 days. They may be back stabbers, both theoretically and literally, but The Secretaries provides a festive and jovial night out. A quick-witted, quip-filled script raises what could have been a throw-away, five minute sketch on Saturday Night Live or Second City, we are in Chicago after all, into a dark comic pearl. Playing up conventional qualities of office workers blended with a predatory lesbilicious blood lust, has never been so much fun. Clock in for this dark office comedy immediately.
About Face Theatre presents The Secretaries is now playing at Theatre Wit through June 12, 2016