“We don’t kill them because they’re bad. We kill them because we’re bad,” one of the seasoned vets of “The Secretaries” informs the new girl. As far as workplace bonding activities go, murder is a far cry from trust falls and happy hours. Of course, as a means of indoctrinating a sense of fidelity (or shared culpability) with your fellow employees, it is undeniably effective. About Face Theatre opts to go all the way with this raunchy feminist comedy and the results slay.
Set in the Pacific Northwest just before the dawn of the internet era, “The Secretaries” follows the titular office workers of Cooney Lumber Mill, a solid company which nevertheless can’t seem to make it more than thirty days without losing one of their lumberjacks.
While “Twin Peaks” is an obvious touchstone, the Cooney gals have more in common with Ben Horne than Margaret Lanterman. Taking place in bars and seedy motels (William Boles’ revolving set looks like it was carved directly out of a California Redwood), “The Secretaries” takes familiar stereotypes of sororal relations and dismembers them with a razor sharp wit. Five Lesbian Brothers present a vision of femininity that is both hilariously authentic (see: Zimas and Slimfast) and dangerously revealing.
With her hand on the throttle, director (and former AFT artistic director) Bonnie Metzgar carves through this production with expertise. Tonally “The Secretaries” is closer in spirit to “Abraham Lincoln Was a F*gg*t” than the comparably modest “after all the terrible things I do” and further demonstrates where About Face’s strengths lie.
This cast goes from one end of the comedic spectrum to the other at the drop of a flannel cap. Led with managerial confidence by Kelli Simpkins (whose stone-faced delivery simply cannot be beat), the women of “The Secretaries” are individually excellent, nimbly balancing humor and heart.
For as funny as this play is, it also charts the meeting point between female friendship and cultural expectations, the latter often driving a wedge between the former. (Kevin Greene)
About Face Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont, (773)975-8150, aboutfacetheatre.org, $20-$35. Through June 12.