6 Women With Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know, a musical by Cheryl Bengee, Christy Brandt, Rosanna E. Coppedge, Valerie Fagan, Ross Freese, Sandee Johnson, and Peggy Pharr Wilson with Music and Lyrics by Mark Houston. Directed by Tom Detwiler.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Get Proud of Me!"
Six nameless women, generic creatures all, scream, shout, shove, love, regret, scorn and kick-and-bite their way through the middle-stages of life in this very funny review about the trauma of self-discovery. Their angst over men often takes a back seat to their anger over being women in this show and this is best expressed in a second act tribute to Barbie Dolls. We have been warned, in the opening monologue, that there will be nudity, violence and sex, but when these women start spreading those long, bare Barbie legs we donít exactly get what weíve been expecting.
It isnít the usual thing, in this Berkshire region, to have the chance to see a show that is a cult favorite elsewhere, especially when the show has not had a legitimate New York run. 6 Women With Brain Death has been given no fewer than six productions at the Carpenter Square Theatre in Oklahoma City where the show originated in 1989. Its composer, Scott Thompson, was a local boy who died in 1995. The show has been seen at Scotlandís Edinburgh Fringe Festival and also at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the 45th Street Theater.
Artistic Director Tom Detwilerís Ghent Playhouse Production has been (and will continue to be) running for two weeks and the cast has solidly structured their roles. There is nothing unsure in their playing and a freedom that I have rarely seen among some of their best-loved players has taken hold. Cathy Lee-Vischer and Sally McCarthy, for example, have created characters here, and hold the stage with them, in ways I have never seen before.
After a lengthy opening number, Lee-Vischer has a solo turn as a shut-in soap-opera freak that is a true comic joy to behold. She has never been funnier, or freer with her face, voice and body. When she begins to sing a torchy duet with her tv-rival the sketch turns into a tour-de-force.
She gets an opportunity to out-do herself in the second act opener, Get Proud of Me, when she and McCarthy get to send up the friendly rivalry of close friends in a situation that I shouldnít describe because half the fun is discovering for yourself what a dilemma it is to lose your head over a man. Both women are at their best here. McCarthy is blond and beautiful and Lee-Vischer is a mass of curls and curves. Their dialogue, punctuated by smiles and sighs, is delicious. If you cannot find any other reason to see this show - see it for these two women.
Equally wonderful is Maria Lally Clark as an operatic-aspiring singer of funk and country music. Debbie McDermott returns to the playhouse after a long absence with a bizarre Game Show hostess parody bit that will have you howling with laughter.
Two newcomers to the Ghent stage, Betsy Colhoun and Nicole Corey, round out the excellent cast. Ensemble is the main criteria here and this sextet work together beautifully. Most of the musical numbers are lengthy and difficult and you donít go away humming the tunes from this show (not even a song from "Oklahoma" which is featured in a joke line that probably plays better in Oklahoma City than in Ghent, New York). You do go away humming with the concept of women standing up for something other than the traditional roles of women, at least as seen in the mid-west in the late 20th century.
Detwiler has done beautiful work in moving and manipulating and providing space for characters to emerge. It is a clear tribute to his talent and his ability to work with women on their own inner quandaries to see how much is displayed on this stage. The humor here is more in the performance than in the material and the very emjoyable elements of this production are grounded in his work with his cast.
Bill Campís simple, functional set works perfectly for this show. Joanne Maurerís costumes couldnít be more right. Campís lighting is just as it should be and the pianistic pleasures of musical director Paul Leyden, with the emphatic help of percussionist David Levow, held the show together.
The show runs through April 20 and is a "must" if you enjoy the odd, the quirky, the different, the delicious, the surprising or the Barbie.
6 Women With Brain Death or Expiring Minds Want to Know plays at the Ghent Playhouse weekends only through April 20. Tickets are $12 - $15. For schedules, and reservations, call 518-392- 6264 or go to their website: www.ghentplayhouse.org.