Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Six Brain Dead Women Come to Life

Courtesy photo

Sacramento’s Lambda Players opens its 21st season with a reprise of “Six Women with Brain Death.” Coincidentally the production is Lambda’s last at the Studio Theatre before moving to its new location at 21st and L in Sacramento. Lambda’s choice of this show is based on personal as well as artistic and social considerations.

First of all the production is a tribute to the multi-talented Jackie Schultz, who produced, directed and performed in it for more than ten years and now suffers from a crippling neuro-muscular disorder. The musical has been around nationally and internationally since 1989 as a satirical reminder of the mind-deadening lives of many women, then and earlier, lives that stoked the feminist movement.

Schultz and Director Kitty Czarnecki call this production a “new” or “newer” version. It does have topical gags--hints of Sarah Palin, references to Paula Abdul and Seven-Eleven (the convenience store, not the catastrophe). And it seems more brutally frank than earlier versions, both in language and sexuality. But overall it sticks closely to the text and mood of the older show, going back to a time when being a housewife was almost the only career open to women.

The play starts with all six members of the all-female cast lined up behind shopping carts as they approach a supermarket counter. Their purchases include copies of The National Expirer, whose motto is “Expiring minds want to know.” On a personal note I once stood in such a line, behind a woman clutching a copy of The National Enquirer, then popular and prominently displayed at markets. I asked the woman why she was buying that newspaper. “Oh,” she said, “I don’t believe anything in it. I just read it for fun.” Focusing on celebrity scandals, the paper was the target for libel suits, mostly successful.

The second scene offers another route for female escapism. With Raylynn Sanders and Bethany Hidden, it’s titled “All My Hospitals.” It portrays a woman itching to learn the big secret in a soap opera when a news flash interrupts the program. A character from the show steps out of the picture tube to soothe her frustration. Longings for glamour appear in “High School Reunion,” “Divas in Midtown” and “Divas in Nashville” (all three with Jesse Stein and company).

The scene most relevant to today’s challenges--“Game Show,” with Dottie Harris, Raylynn and company--begins Act II. It’s followed by the play’s most memorable scene, “Severed Head.” Meg Masterson’s bodiless head, still alive and talking, is perched on a platter. She argues indefatigably with her strained caretaker (Naomi C. Rios).

In ‘Barbie and Ken” Bethany and company treat the sex lives of Barbie dolls. Religion is straight-armed in “God is an Alien,” which somehow links God and Amway.

After performing for over two years in productions of “Six Women,” Czarnecki proves herself more than qualified to direct the cast in singing and acting a multitude of roles.
Rachel Songer is musical director. Jeanne Stevenson, Raylynn, Kurt Kurtis, and Bethany designed the wide variety of colorful costumes.

The show’s book is by Cheryl Benge, Christy Brandt, Rosanna Coppedge, Valerie Fagan, Ross Freese, Mark Houston, Sandee Johnson and Peggy Pharr Wilson. Music and lyrics are by Houston.

“Six Women with Brain Death” continues through October 4 at the Studio Theatre, 1028 R Street, Sacramento. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. When purchasing matinee tickets, mention “adult only.” Tickets are $15-$17. Call (916) 444-8229 and find out more at

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