Try not to laugh — just try — at She the People, the latest Second City variety show to grace Woolly Mammoth’s stage in their long-running, fruitful partnership.
Brunch, birth, workplace attire, Trump & Clinton — all things woman and womanly are punned and pilloried in this endlessly side-splitting send-up of the female condition, circa 2018. Previous entries in the Chicago-D.C. collaboration that is Second City’s annual visit to Woolly have featured some (but only a few) sketches and songs that have dragged on a little too long. Not so with this all-women iteration, which is as rapid-fire as it is wide-ranging. The pace is dizzying, the jokes are on-point — you’ll giggle and guffaw until the lights come up.
Directed by Carly Heffernan, She the People is angry, but never so angry it loses focus on its targets. Mansplaining, anti-feminist elitism, and the ridiculous extremes of “you go girl!” pop-culture don’t stand a chance against these half-dozen comedic actresses. In one flash fiction-sized scene, a woman turns to confront her cat-caller on the street, but then their eyes meet and they fall blissfully, absurdly in love to tune of Annie Lennox’s “No More ‘I Love You’s.” In another, a waitress’s ill-advised correction on the pronunciation of “charcuterie” leads to a Chris Farley-sized tantrum.
Some of these sketches, such as a yoga class for new mothers so full of virtue-signaling it would make the women of Big Little Lies sick to their stomachs, would fit comfortably in an episode of Inside Amy Schumer (the title star of which gets named-checked). That’s a compliment. But others feel wholly original. The best might be a send-up of all the insane ways women are portrayed in commercials for cleaning products, food, tampons, and erectile dysfunction medication. All of my groceries fit into a single, wrinkle-free brown bag, one quips, with a baguette sticking out of the top! I should not be riding a horse while wearing white pants, another points out.
Carisa Barreca gets the first laugh of the night, scoffing openly that anyone could have enjoyed Justin Timberlake during his cornrows phase. Kazi Jones gets the last ones, describing a semi-successful effort to save all the men from The Upside Down. Alex Bellisle sings a cheery tune informing the audience that “Your Baby is Gay.” Atra Asdou wakes up from a decade-long coma to find out that all of her favorite celebrities are rapists and harassers, Maggie Wilder (who was lethally funny in Woolly’s Octaroon) is the quirky, whimsical girl who only exists in rom-coms, and Katie Caussin plays a loopy-doopy author here to tell everyone about “uterus” vs. “uter-you.” All of them are worthy of their own one-woman shows, but all the better that we get to see them together.
2018 was the Year of the Woman, they say. “They” would love this show.