Women just aren’t funny, the late essayist Christopher Hitchens concluded in a 2007 Vanity Fair essay.
Au contraire. The women of Stephens Summer Theatre Institute are out to prove just how wrong Hitchens was—by honoring some of the great female comedians in American history. “Funny Ladies” starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Warehouse Theatre and is free and open to the public. It’s rated PG-13 for mature themes.
Attendees can expect to be greeted with an over-the-top impression of Maya Rudolph's parodoy of Beyonce singing the National Anthem followed by a re-enactment of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Golden Globe Awards banter. Then, Hitchens will opine on his theory of unfunny females followed by a parade of some of the funniest comedians over the last century—all of whom, of course, happen to be women.
“This is a salute to American women comedians and great comedic writing,” said director Lamby Hedge.
The production will follow the evolution of female comedy, starting with the worldly wit and wisdom of Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz and Nora Ephron showcasing the sophisticated comedy that dominated in the 1930s.
“World War II changed everything,” Hedge said. “When the boys came marching home, women were put back in the box. The comedy that came out of that era was domesticated. It was still very smart, but very down-to-earth.”
That era will be represented by a portrayal of author Erma Bombeck, whose columns and books chronicled life of the everyday suburban wife.
Housewife humor was followed by what Hedge calls the “restless spirits”—Roseanne Barr as the disgruntled mom and the no-holds-barred Joan Rivers, both of whom will be featured in the production.
“Then something wonderful happened,” Hedge said. “The Saturday Night Live phenomenon. Finally, there was a place for smart women to write about something other then relationships.”
In addition to Poehler and Fey, STI will highlight the work of Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer—as well as Samantha Bee from John Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
While audiences can expect lots of laughs, portraying great comedians has also proven to build some foundational skills for budding actors. It’s allowed them to practice delivering monologues—which are required at most auditions.
Students were also charged with researching and studying their respective characters to mimic voice patterns and mannerisms without necessarily trying to impersonate them.
“It’s a fine line,” Hedge said. “There’s a level of responsibility having to walk in the shoes of someone else.”
STI concludes Monday, June 22, with the annual musical revue.
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