RETURN TO GENDER

The lighthearted feminist musical review A...My Name Is Still Alice, a collection of songs and sketches now in its regional premiere at the Theatre on Broadway, is more about playful self-mockery than genuine social issues. It may not be a comic wonderland--there are some scratchy performances among the six-woman ensemble and the action drags in the early going--but it's still a lot of laughs.

Conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, Alice is about the most ordinary kinds of female experiences. There's no battering going on here, no vile injustices at the hands of the law, nothing about abortion or disease. Yet the problems here have more to do with the material than the talent, something the cast amply proves in the second act.

Director Steven Tangedal has chosen a variety of ages and body types to make up the ensemble and that in itself is a pleasure. The show opens with each of the women asserting that "her name is still Alice" and describing how conditions for women have changed over time--that what women have learned to demand from society was first modest, then radical and then, in the Nineties, modest again. Alice laughs at the extremes of those demands but applauds the accompanying progress in the song "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back."

Though the show doesn't descend to male-bashing, it does aim a few darts at male chauvinism. In one sketch, a construction worker makes lewd remarks to passing women. When one of them appears to take him up on his proposal, giving tit for tat with her own series of lewd remarks, he runs screaming from the scene.

The crassest satire surfaces in the sketch "Gross Anatomy Lesson," which features veteran actress Jan Giese as a doctor lecturing to an all-female medical school class about a condition associated with underdeveloped male genitalia. Senator Robert Packwood, Saddam Hussein and the entire male population of Colorado Springs, she says, suffer from the condition. Sophomoric, perhaps, but Giese handles this kind of broad satire well. She's a scream in "Sensitive New Age Guys," during which the rest of the ensemble goes out into the audience and locates "sensitive" men to serve as targets for the song's jokes, while the rest of the audience joins in the chorus. The guys can't win--even when they're sensitive, they're wrong.

But then, Silver and Boyd reserve three of their sharpest darts for those feminists who blame men for everything. Katie Richardson, a knockout who gave a riveting dramatic performance as a Red Cross volunteer in last year's A Piece of My Heart, shows off her comic talents as a contemporary performance poet. Reading from a collection called "For Women Only," she portrays herself variously as a wounded bird, a neglected plant and a dying swan. The acidic refrain of each piece: "He did it! He did it! He did it!"

Gail Rae Weldon provides another bright spot in the evening. As a woman who has left her husband and two grown sons because she makes so little difference in their lives, Weldon delivers a poignant monologue about her search for identity that is remarkably free of self-pity. Later, as another character, Weldon sings about raising a daughter alone in "What Did I Do Right?" Despite all her mistakes and feelings of inadequacy, the daughter has turned out happy and healthy and the woman is relieved--and surprised. Weldon's dancing is less than spectacular, but she has presence and power packed into her small frame.

The most moving performance comes from Pamela Ann Mahon. Her luscious voice and gentle delivery of "Baby," a beautifully arranged song about a homeless mother watching over a child she can't support, an infant in a box on the sand, make for a stylish, intense moment in a mostly raucous evening.

It's moments like these that leave the audience with a positive burst of energy--and the feeling that, however lightweight the presentation in Alice, there is at least some substance behind all the fluff.

A...My Name Is Still Alice, through July 30 at the Theatre on Broadway, 13 S. Broadway, 777-3292.

 
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