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The Secret Comedy of Women – Theatre Review: Herberger Theater Center, Phoenix

Here’s a tip for the guys. When you enter the Herberger Theater Center and the voluntary usher checks your ticket for The Secret Comedy of Women, then tells you, “Be warned,” take heed. After all, the clue is in the subtitle – Girls Only.

Walking into Herberger’s Stage West and facing an arena full of already excitable women of all ages, from young, middle-age, to elderly, is like accidentally crashing an all-inclusive ladies hotel convention that no one told you about, but you should have known.

The Secret Comedy of Women is a sketch-based variety show of skits, improv, song, dance, and audience participation where the comic duo hosts perform the whole thing. The Girls Only night out was written by its performers, Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, two immediately likable personalities who spend 105 minutes, or thereabouts, examining all things girly. Make no mistake, this is not an evening of male-bashing, even if the archival video of an early Folgers Coffee commercial shows what superior minded prigs we were (and in some cases, probably still are), it’s a look at those things in life that all women share. And it’s very funny.

The setting is a teenage girls’ bedroom. From their appearance, considering the approximate age of both Barbara and Linda (rude, I know, but bear with me), you’d think the design would probably be set sometime during the eighties, yet the bedroom’s pink walls are decorated in posters of the seventies. There’s the wholesome looking Osmonds during their Crazy Horses period and Shaun Cassidy during his whatever it was that Shaun Cassidy did period. There’s no stereo, but there’s a record player on the carpet with some L.P. covers strewn around suggesting an even earlier decade.

While looking for your seat, you’ll notice that there on the stage, hanging out in the bedroom, flicking through the pages of a woman’s magazine and occasionally engaging members of the audience with a smile and a thumbs up, sits Barbara and Linda, both dressed in only their bra and panties. The show hasn’t even begun, yet by the reactions of the audience and the occasional exchange of words, the two ladies already have the house on their side. With songs like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Like a Virgin, and This One’s For The Girls playing in the background, a party atmosphere is already established, and the house lights have yet to dim.

Once they do and The Secret Comedy of Women begins, the ladies introduce themselves – Linda is from Denver, Colorado; Barabara is from Winnipeg, Canada – the two immediately engage the audience in a conversation about the look of female models in fashion magazines and their often absurd positions. “Who takes their panties off with just their thumbs?” asks Linda while striking a model’s pose. There’s also the subject of bras, as in the Miracle Bra where you could click for cleavage, or the ridiculously overpriced and severely uncomfortable diamond encrusted bra and panties, pointing out that perhaps the words panties and encrusted should never be used in the same sentence.

From there, Barabra and Linda reflect on teenage diaries – they read extracts of their own – the issues of trying to breastfeed in public or at restaurants – “Hooters. God forbid, we should breastfeed our babies there” – menstrual cycles, menopause, and a Carol Burnett/Vicki Lawrence styled skit for cable TV-only called Craft Corner where the two women dress as elderly retirees giving tips on the various other uses of feminine hygiene products, including maxi pads, tampons, a glue gun, and – please, don’t ask – a bucket of KFC. Plus, in a final sketch, through dance, the ladies express the trails and tribulations of what it’s like when trying to put on a pair of tights.  Considering it’s The Nutcracker they’re performing to somehow makes the piece sound even funnier.

The success of the show is how the two performers bring to life the spirit of a woman’s world, its early years, the attitudes, the styles they all remember, the products of the time, and the feeling of how it affected them. It’s not simply nostalgia – that would be too easy – it’s that ability to tap into something that all the women in the audience have experienced in a similar way then creatively present it as theatrical observational comedy. Plus, Linda and Barbara are experienced talent. They give the appearance of spontaneity and even laugh with a look of surprise when one says something that sounds off-the-cuff, yet they’re actors, and this is a show that’s been on the road since 2008; there’s nothing, not even in the moments of improv, they’ve never said before. Yet through professionalism and good performances, they remain authentic.

During the History of Women segment, narrated by Linda and performed by Barbara with shadow puppets, we learn that among the world’s many inventions, women invented the Windshield Wiper, the Globe, and the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Well, Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein invented The Secret Comedy of Women. The show began in Phoenix last month and continues until February 24. There are plenty of performances left. Ladies, go in a crowd with friends, you’ll laugh louder. And guys, if you go as a date or you’re accompanying your wife, keep this in mind: if the usher gives you a friendly warning before entering, remember, they’re not kidding. Really.

The Secret Comedy of Women continues at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West in Phoenix until February 24

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