Make mine a zombie
Six Women With Brain Death
Naturally, I went on ladies night.
I was, in fact, the only guy in the first three rows, alongside several groups of women, most of them seeing the show for a second time.
The night’s first big laugh: As the six women perused copies of The Expirer, a supermarket tabloid, one read an item aloud—“Man’s testicles get sucked down hot-tub drain.”
It’s that kind of show—a parade of songs, comic monologues and skits on such topics as experiencing hot flashes while standing in the checkout line at the supermarket or trying to squeeze back into your high-school prom dress for the 20th class reunion. Other routines get into cellulite and soap operas, menopause and men, and naughty bits involving Barbie and Ken.
It’s basically a campy high-school variety show re-scored in a midlife key, a hoot-and-holler celebration of middle-class attitudes and pre-soccer-mom frustrations with a few formerly forbidden words mixed in. And hard-working cast members like Shelley Russell and Chris Hille do a lot to juice it up with extroverted energy. Slender Evon Biondi is also good in a number of scenes.
A few routines have some bite: I liked one in which a single woman confesses to reading too many psychobabble best sellers and is then confronted with a quiz-show format in which she must choose between three role models: a hard-boiled modern business woman, a pregnant homemaker with a babe clinging to her leg, or a gum-chewing dominatrix-for-hire with a detached attitude.
But truth be told, the songs are forgettable, and most of the humor is closer to generic than universal, in situations trending toward the sophomoric. Absurdism with attitude can be delightful and timeless—witness the current resurgence of old Monty Python material. But Six Women isn’t really quite up to that standard.
Fun? Undoubtedly, especially if you enjoy the audience participation angle and maybe sip a few drinks before the show. A form of theatrical catharsis, a way of blowing off steam? Clearly, for some—although some 20-something women I’ve spoken with found the show somewhat embarrassing.
A classic? No—but what do I know? I’ve been a house-husband, stayed home with the babies while my better half pursued her career, and experienced some middle-aged spread and sag. But I’m still a guy, which may be an automatic disqualification for a wholehearted appreciation of this show.
Six Women With Brain Death opened at Sacramento’s Studio Theater in 1996. In a little over eight weeks, the show will mark its fifth anniversary—virtual immortality in theatrical terms.
It’s far and away the longest-running show in Sacramento history, an institution that has taken on a life of its own. Critics now take it for granted. But Six Women continues to do steady business, much of it from repeat customers; the Studio Theater offers discounts to those who’ve seen the show three times and return with friends.
The show was largely created by a man, Mark Houston, who wrote the music and lyrics based on the escapades of some crazy female friends in Kansas City back in the 1980s. Houston subsequently died of AIDS.
The Studio Theater’s production has evolved considerably through the years. Jokes that referenced the ’80s have been discarded in favor of lines about “compassionate conservatism” and TV shows such as Survivor.
Some 30 actresses have been in the cast over the years; the show currently operates with a core group of eight, several of whom know more than one role. Of the original ’96 Sacramento cast, Jackie Schultz (producer and owner of the theater) remains, although she missed much of ’97-’98 due to ill health.
The audience is 70- to 80-percent female, many over 40.
About the show’s business aspect: “I say I’m in the entertainment industry,” Schultz explains. “[At this point] I’m a producer, not a regular artistic director. [Managing a long-running show] is a completely different type of operation than a regular theater that does one show after another.”
The experience: for those who see the show again and again: “It’s kind of like therapy,” says Schultz. “But I always thought theater was therapy anyway.”