Feminists are frequently accused of being humorless: "How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One--and that isn't funny." But at least one troupe in town is proving there are laughs to be had among the little womyn. Unidentified Female Objects II: The Search Continues, at the Avenue Theater, occasionally bogs down in its own convolutions, and the three stand-up comics who wrote and perform the work are sometimes too enamored of their own outrageousness. Most of the time, though, UFO is a scream.
The twelve-sketch show is dedicated to satirizing with equal vigor a culture that exploits women and feminist overreactions to that culture. We meet, for instance, a flabbergasted storyteller called Mother Goose who tries to relate "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to a politically precocious preschool class. The wages of political correctness spell hilarious death to the good old tale, as Dopey becomes "Intellectually Deprived," Happy is renamed "Psychically Centered" and Bashful emerges as "Socially Dyslexic."
The evening begins with "Susan Seeks Help," in which a patient played by an inflatable sex doll lies on a couch while three different therapists try to help her. Dr. Knod (Nancy Norton) affirms everything the patient says; Dr. Crystal (Deanie Pate) is bent on opening the patient's "chakra"; and the best advice offered by Dr. Pavlov (Edith Weiss) is "Get over it." The parody is particularly pointed when all three docs leave the patient completely deflated.
The most memorable sketch is "Susan and the Militant Feminist Housewife," in which the three performers skewer male-female tensions, the presumptions of marriage and, most delightfully, the blatant exploitive quality of advertising. But a close runner-up is "Sri Gary," in which Norton, duded up in an enormous turban, lectures on metaphysics with a Midwestern accent--the ultimate cheezoid religious nerd. She sounds like a female George Bush with a touch of Ross Perot-styled manipulation. Never has the new age looked so retro Middle America or sounded so asinine.
Sometimes Norton, Pate and Weiss go highbrow: Weiss satirizes the pretensions of a bogus feminist poet with such sharp insight that you have to wonder just which art fakes she has personally observed. And now and then a scene will end on a sobering note, like "Diary of Respectful and Snide," in which Pate struggles with the political and emotional implications of dieting.
But rather than putting a damper on things, these serious moments serve to increase the laugh factors in the next scenes. Only in the last sketch does the team fly over the top. The downright nasty "Susan Confronts Jesus, Batman and Venus" attempts to challenge the three competing self-images roiling around in one woman's head: the Martyr, the Rescuer and the Sexual Object. It's a vulgar and self-indulgent piece that goes on forever--and has little to say about womanhood in our time.
Nancy Norton is a remarkable talent. Of the three performers here, she is the most versatile and surprising; her chameleon-like changes from scene to scene are rock-steady. But if Norton is the firm core of this troupe, Edith Weiss is its fire and ice. Elegant and brainy, Weiss understands the art of delivering a mighty one-liner. Deanie Pate is the least sure of herself on stage, yet when she gets comfortable in a scene--such as the embarrassing but amusing vignette in which she plays a dominatrix at an S&M boot camp--she is consistently appealing. And she has mastered quite a stunning raised eyebrow.
What problems there are with UFO lie in indiscipline--whenever the writer/performers indulge themselves too far, the laughs drizzle away. Some free advice for budding thespians, feminist and otherwise: Humor works best when it penetrates human absurdities with a little affection. A wry wink is always funnier than a brickbat.
Unidentified Female Objects II: The Search Continues, through November 30 at the Avenue Theater, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 321-5925.
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