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The women of Second City stand up for the ‘The People’ in potent revue

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"She The People" features Carissa Barreca (from left), Alex Bellisle, Katie Caussin, Maria Randazzo and Alexis J. Roston. |
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Toward the final third of “She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves,” the women of Second City deliver a sketch about an all-male congressional subcommittee on health care: They recoil at any mention of vaginas (“Don’t use that word. It’s gross.”). They are ignorant as to the purpose of mammograms (“Is that some kind of singing telegram?”). They vote against preventive care funding because they can just send “thoughts and prayers” to women with “lady part” cancer. The sketch slays.

‘She the People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves’
Highly Recommended
When: Through April 1
Where: UP Comedy Club at Second City, Pipers Alley, 230 W. North
Tickets/info: secondcity.com

It is also emblematic of the entire production: It’s one of the funniest revues Second City has produced in the past 20 years. And it is also deeply enraging. The laughs are rooted in the recognition of the endless absurdities women endure: Women make 72 cents for every dollar men make. Women weren’t allowed to have their own credit cards until 1974. Birth control, pre-natal care, mammograms and pap tests are becoming privileges of those few who can pay for them out-of-pocket. There’s not a woman on the planet who hasn’t been belittled, heckled, harassed, called a bitch,  overlooked or ignored because of her gender. This is all — as the emphatic, continuing refrain throughout the show goes — “some kind of bull—-.”

Alexis J. Roston (left) and Kimberly Michelle Vaughn in “She The People” at Second City’s UP Comedy Club. | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018

Directed by Carly Heffernan, with music direction by Mary Mahoney, and featuring Maria Randazzo, Kimberly Michelle Vaughn, Katie Caussin, Alexis J. Roston, Carissa Barreca and Alex Bellisle, the sketches take on the patriarchy with ferocious, infectious humor. The ensemble is on fire throughout the rapid-fire, two-hour show written by Heffernan, Barreca, Marla Caceres, Tien Tran and Lauren Walker.

But as fast and furious as the laughs fly, “She the People” will also leave you angry and maybe sad. The sketches aren’t so much comedically amplified interpretations of the nonsense that defines everything from misguided advertising campaigns to irresponsible legislative policies as they are the stuff of documentaries. As every woman in the house surely knows, you can’t make this bull—- up.

There’s not a misfire in the sketches of “She the People.” Among the highlights: A recurring bit about the way women are portrayed in commercials. Tip: If you ever start menstruating that Windex-blue liquid featured in tampon ads get yourself to the ER, stat. Also, nobody shaves their legs beneath a glorious waterfall. And nobody scrubs floors wearing an immaculate camisole.

The ensemble shows no fear as it takes on cultural beauty standards. According to the mantra most women hear at least once before hitting puberty: “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” To which the cast offers an addendum about cake. It is perfect.

Childbirth – and the pressure many women feel to do it completely drug-free in a birthing tub enveloped by a recording of dolphin songs – also gets skewered: Epidurals, in case you didn’t know, are for the weak and possibly evil. You get bonus points if you have a bear for a doula and deliver in the forest.

Then there’s  the sobering sketch on rape culture. A little girl has been pushed by a boy at school. She tells the nurse. The nurse is skeptical: “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Was anyone else there? You do like attention, don’t you? What did you do to make him push you?” In the end, the child is left wondering if maybe she imagined the whole thing. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.

At one point, the cast poses a solution for the gender deficit: Every man who begins a sentence to a woman with “Well, actually,” gets fined one dollar. Trillions would be collected.

Deep in the show, the cast asks for a show of hands. How many women have been called a bitch? Guess how many women raised their hands? All of them. That’s no bull—-.

Carissa Barreca (from left), Katie Caussin and Kimberly Michelle Vaughn are among the ensemble in “She The People.” | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2018