Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Superheroines still soar, still have issues

Last weekend marked the long-awaited return of The Superheroine Monologues, the witty conflation of The Vagina Monologues and the comix that writers John Kuntz and Rick Park (with director and costume designer extraordinaire Greg Maraio) first sprang on the public to great applause last spring.

At the time, I wrote the show had "a charming grrl-power vibe, some of the grooviest costumes ever seen in the Hub, and a purrrr-fectly fetching and talented cast." And it still does.

But I also felt the hip, campy extravaganza had a few issues, and alas, its newest incarnation hasn't successfully worked through them. Some of the skits have been renovated, a few bits have been tightened, and an intermission has been added - a good idea. But other sequences have been expanded (a bit awkwardly), a so-so musical number has been added, and the underlying issue of the overall shape of the show hasn't really been addressed. It's still a groovy good time, and if you haven't seen it, you should. But since the occasional step forward has sometimes been canceled by a step back, it's still at roughly the same level it was last spring.

Which is actually a good place to be - and I have to report that the friend I brought to the show responded to it much the way I did last April: it's witty, clever and sweet, and improbably balances nods to fanboys, gays, and hipsters in equal measure. There were a few new faces in the cast I saw, but both Molly Kimmerling (Supergirl) and Elizabeth Rimar (Batgirl) quickly showed they'd earned the right to don their capes and spandex. Meanwhile Cheryl D. Singleton had surprisingly deepened as Storm, while the other returning performers basically held their earlier high-flying level (although Elizabeth Montigny's and Amanda Good Hennessey's delivery sometimes edged toward super-sonic speed).

But then there's that pesky structure. The show has been written by two of the funniest dudes in the local scene, but they don't seem to have been able to agree on an overall arc for their show. The piece opens, appropriately enough, with the first superheroine of them all, Wonder Woman - but her episode has been expanded into fanboy detail that doesn't really work theatrically, while the return to her situation at the finale doesn't resonate as it should; I sense competing keyboards essentially writing different scripts. And witty as the decade-by-decade procession of the show may be, the monologues still aren't stitched together with much in the way of connecting theme. Said themes are actually there, from Lois Lane's internalized sexism to Catwoman's druggy abandon to Phoenix's final battle royale with another woman (her mother) rather than a man, but the show itself doesn't seem to understand its own progression. Which doesn't mean it isn't the most fun to be had on a local stage right now. It just means that there's still one more writing adventure out there to be embarked upon!

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