nytheatre.com review by Garry Schrader
August 20, 2010
The Five Lesbian Brothers' raunchy, gory satire from 1993, The Secretaries, is currently playing in a spirited revival at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. A new era and a new cast (and the bare-bones production values of FringeNYC) blunt the chain-saw sharpness of the original, but only a little, and a play that was born in a time when killer-lesbian movies (some of which are name-checked in the play) seemed to be everywhere holds up well in the Age of True Blood.
We are in Big Bone, Oregon, where the pert and perfect Patty, our narrator, has just been hired into a secretarial pool at the Cooney Lumber Company. It doesn't take her long to notice that things are a little strange: Her four co-workers are obsessed with body weight and with pleasing their powerful (offstage) boss, Mr. Combuncture. Alright, perhaps there's nothing too odd there, so how about this: The ladies have a fetish for Slim-Fast shakes, share the same menstrual cycle (there will be tampons), and once a month have a Dionysian bacchanal in the woods where they kill and dismember a lumberjack (and allow themselves pizza, for a night).
The play has many targets for its satire, perhaps foremost the idea that women are most fulfilled in the roles of nurturing caregivers ("We don't kill them because they're bad, we kill them because we're bad," one of the secretaries explains to Patty). At the same time, there is the notion that women (all of us, really) become monstrous when they swallow like a Slim-Fast shake the expectations placed on them by a society obsessed with bodily perfection and constricting gender roles. Possibly the most successful dismantling is the assumption that lesbians and/or feminists are dour and humorless. ("I'm not a feminist, I can take a compliment!" says Patty.)
The Secretaries is performed by five terrific comic actors: Virginia Baeta, Karen Stanion, Elizabeth Whitney, Jamie Heinlein, and Elizabeth A. Bell. The direction by Mark Finley keeps things moving, though there are scenes that could be more focused, and he cannot prevent the play from losing some steam as it goes on, a problem even in its original incarnation. The costumes by Ellen Reilly are effective. There is no credit for lighting designer, and this may be why some of the scenes seemed a little underlit.
These are minor quibbles. The sold-out audience I attended had a great time with this murderous crew, and I suspect you will too.