Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, April 2008
Alas, I must inform you that the title is the funniest part of this “satirical revue.” Frankly, when you give a show a title involving the words “brain death” and “expiring minds” you better be pretty damned sure its hilarious or you are just asking for critics like me to make snide remarks about the brain death they experienced or how soon their own minds expired after the curtain came up.
I think I understand vaguely where this show was intended to go, but composer/lyricist Mark Houston employed WAY too many librettists to even hope to keep it coherent and headed in one single direction. (NOTE: Never write a show by committee!) So it just meanders about, with sketches written by various people who wished they had been born early enough and with enough talent to have written for The Carol Burnett Show, the last of the truly great TV comedy/variety hours, and songs so pointless and unmemorable that all but one of them have left my head already.
Here’s a parable. In 1978 I saw the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. I could barely afford my lone seat up in the gods, let alone the cast album, which retailed for about $25.00 back then, and so I really haven’t seen the show or listened to the score in the past thirty years. I arrived home from seeing 6 Women... to discover my younger son watching the recently released DVD of the Tim Burton film and found myself easily able to identify the characters and recall the plot and songs. And yet I am unable to hum a single tune from 6 Women.... At the time Sondheim wrote Sweeney Todd the biggest criticism against him was the you didn’t leave a Sondheim show humming the tunes...
The moral of this story is that some great songs, like, oh, say Some Enchanted Evening are inherently hummable, while others, like the score of Sweeney Todd, lodge themselves in your brain stem and just lurk there. But mediocre music literally drifts in one ear and out the other. There is nothing memorable about this show, or, alas, this production.
No one at the Ghent Playhouse was responsible for the writing of script, lyrics or score for this show, and its selection, as a show that would give six talented women a chance to shine without wearing wimples, was a strong one. But alas even the formidable talents of Ghent veterans Cathy Lee Visscher, Maria Lally Clark, and Sally McCarthy are unable to save this dissonant drivel from looking and sounding like exactly what it is.
This is a great pity because those are three talented women, and so are Betsy Colhoun, Nicole Corey, and Debbie McDermott, who complete the cast. I think the intention here was to show how intelligent modern women are driven insane by the mind-numbing garbage that passes for “news” in the information saturated age, which is a promising premise. Issues are broached that could be hilarious, in the hands of stronger writers. As it is, they fizzle like fireworks at a rained-out Fourth of July barbecue, expiring long before the promised Grand Finale has a chance to gather steam.
As a woman with an expiring mind, (i.e. a woman over 50) I was really the prime audience for this material, which touches on Boomer nostalgia like Barbie Orgies (with Midge and Allan in attendance!) and even I could barely muster a laugh. By the time you are peri-, post-, or just plain menopausal and your children are grown you are ready to put away middle-aged things. Putting Barbie and Ken, Barbie and Allan, or even Ken and Allan in compromising positions, with their featureless plastic genitalia and unbending limbs knocking impotently together, is no longer fun or funny.
The things that are hilarious to women over 50 are deeper, earthier, more organic truths.. which was what this show seemed to promise in its opening moments when we were warned of frank language and possible nudity. Imagine my boredom when the only characters who appeared nude were Barbie and Ken (or was it Allan?) And frankly, I was equally bored by the F, S, SH words and all their ilk which I have heard too many times and which fail to either titillate or entertain.
The only moment of the show that really worked for me was Get Proud of Me a country-western number belted out with bravado by Visscher and McCarthy. The plot line was weak, but the situation (which I will not spoil by revealing it here) is hilarious and Director Tom Detwiler uses his two strongest singers and actors to their best advantage.
Other sketches remained blindingly obscure. I have watched All My Children since 1974 and failed to find anything even remotely funny about the All My Hospitals soap opera sketch. I enjoyed the close doo-wop harmony on Prom Queen but the whole skit, which involved a group of women at their 30th high school reunion, fell flat – and I went to an all girls’ school and attended my 30th reunion a few years ago. I was the ideal audience for both of those bits and they failed because the humor wasn’t based in reality but on the vague idea that anything to do with soap operas and middle-aged women at a reunion would be funny.
Another set of sketches, one in each act, played off the idea that a group of WASP women rapping or singing country western is hilarious. I have been in places (mostly Episcopal churches) where the inability of my ethnic group to sing anything written by a person of color after 1950 has been painfully proven true, but here it just...didn’t...work
Paul Leyden does his usual solid job as “orchestra” and musical director, and David Levow is cleverly concealed backstage providing drums and percussion, but there were moments when I couldn’t tell if the ensemble was singing off-key on purpose or by mistake.
Since the various scenes and songs, some of which are connected by very thin threads of story or character and many of which just happen for no apparent reason, are set “here, there, and everywhere” in the “now, then, and whenever,” Bill Camp has designed a suitably vague set painted some innocuous pastel colors. The four openings are draped with wildly inappropriate sparkly Mylar curtains that just drove me crazy.
When I went to research the production history of 6 Women... I discovered that there was no cast album. That should have been a sign unto me that this show was less than ground-breaking. These days people make an original cast recording of their annual charity talent show. For a show to have been around since 1985, as this one has, with no one immortalizing it on CD is a very bad sign.
I hope to see all six of these talented women performing in better material SOON!
6 Women With Brain Death Or Expiring Minds Want To Know runs weekends through April 20, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off Rt. 66 next to the fire station. The show runs two hours with one intermission and is not suitable for children under 16 because of rough language. Call the box office at 518-392-6264 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008