Out with a bang
Gothic North ends its season with tough, funny pop-culture material
As a twentysomething, I can only faintly remember what the world was like before talk shows and self-help books, Viagra and Prozac. In this so-called Information Age, we have the luxury—or the curse—of constant self-examination and redefinition, and there’s no shortage of magazine articles and skin creams to help you along the way. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Gothic North Theater tackles these concepts head-on with its season closer, Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know. The musical was written in the ‘80s by the six original cast members, with lyrics and music by Mark Houston, but it has been updated many times to reflect the current state of American pop culture.
The production has sort of a Marx Brothers-meets-The View feel, as the six women act out zany short skits from a decidedly leftist, woman-centric point of view. It’s also peppered liberally with sexual references and swear words, so if you have a moral issue with the word “fuck” (or the act itself), you may want to stay home.
The essence of the production is perhaps best summed up in a skit titled “I Read Too Much,” featuring Pat Halverson as a woman toting a Waldenbooks bag full of self-help books. As she’s lamenting about her inability to figure out who she is, a game show host pops out of the wings—it’s time to “Wise Up or DIE!” The host parades out three archetypal women: the take-no-prisoners businesswoman, the baby-toting mom and the sexually liberated rock chick.
As the three women interview Halverson’s character, she discovers that she fits into none of the predefined acceptable categories, and the skit ends with her being burned at the stake. Of course, the reality is that no woman fits perfectly into these molds, and the more Halverson’s character reads, the more conflicting messages she receives about what kind of woman she should be.
Disillusionment is another big theme here, and Disney and Barbie are royally skewered as the prime pushers of unattainable happiness. Disney’s lovable deer Bambi gets a makeover into Rambi—decked out in camo gear—who blows hunters away with an Uzi. Barbie, meanwhile, is blamed for false expectations about relationships (not to mention breast size). The six women impersonate life-size Barbies and Kens, and fairytale weddings degenerate into disappointing wedding night sex.
Director David Zybert and the cast—Halverson, Kimberly Golish Gibbons, Clemencia Golbov, Tanya Jean Kluck, Julie Robertson and Jami Wright—deserve credit for even attempting this production, and for pulling it off pretty well. There were some awkward moments and times when the singing and dancing were a little weak, but all six women kept up the frenetic pace, and there were more highs than lows.
Two of the women deserve special mention: Kimberly Golish Gibbons and Tanya Jean Kluck. Both possessed a manic energy and the kind of wildly exaggerated facial features and gestures that work perfectly in this show, not to mention great singing and dancing.
This production makes me wish there were more flexibility in the RN&R’s theater rating scale, because many elements of Brain Death deserve a higher rating than just "good." But there were several times when I wished a skit would hurry up and end, so it all evens out.