Presented by Huntington Theatre Company
Resident Direction / Choreography by Carisa Barreca
Original Direction / Head Writing by Carly Heffernan
Original Music & Sound Design by Mary Mahoney
Music Direction & Sound Design by Jacob Shuda
Stage Managing by William Collins
Review by Chloé Cunha
Boston, MA — I am woman, hear me roar… with laughter? She the People is fun, high-energy, and, in its best moments, a cathartic release of female frustrations. At its least effective, it is as on the nose as the opening sentence of this review, and narrow in its vision. Though not as radical as one might expect or hope for, it nevertheless presents an entertaining piece of political bubblegum pop to chew on.
She the People is an explicitly feminist sketch show (with a splash of improv) developed at Chicago’s renowned Second City. The sketches varies widely in subject, but are all united under the same theme: female empowerment. The cast consists of six players– Lexi Alioto, Jess DeBacco, Kazi Jones, Lori McClain, Shelby Plummer, and Yazmin Ramos– who each rotate seamlessly through the different scenarios with a gusto. They had great chemistry together and it’s hard to find a stand out, as each shined in their roles.
The humor is mostly very broad, so if you prefer your brush strokes painted with a finer touch this might not be the show for you. For the most part, the show deals in archetypes, not characters. An actor might openly proclaim who they are, i.e., “I’m a woman in a razor commercial,” to cut straight to the chase. From satirical songs about needing to apologize all the time, to a horror parody about women turning into their mothers, a lot of the tropes are familiar. It’s fun, but nothing new.
Whether those tropes are stale or not is a matter of opinion, but certainly some of the more overtly political ones feel a tad dated already. A joke about Trump as a baby might have seemed surprising three years ago, when She the People first debuted, and when we as a nation were still warming up to just how disastrous his presidency would be. Now it feels cliché at best, dismissive at worst. Trump may be juvenile but I’ve never seen a baby bludgeon democratic norms with its rattle.
From the start, it’s clear that the show is preaching to the choir… which is not inherently a negative, given that it functions in part as a refuge for the day to day frustrations of existing as a woman! The requisite opening announcements cheekily remind you of what you’re about to see: “Photography and misogyny strictly forbidden.” Still, it’s worth examining who is invited to the congregation. For example, while there are a few sketches about queer sexuality, including a fun jam about gay babies, there is hardly a passing reference to trans identity.
Though the show is entertaining, it’s biggest flaw might be that it often isn’t daring enough– the scope is so large, some of the messaging gets muddled. Late in the show, a woman president proclaims that we are not at war, because she “never has to prove how big her dick is ever again.” [Can I say dick in this review?? (Queen’s response: You can say it as often as you want! Dick, dick, dick, DICK!)] Ironically however, a repeating musical refrain throughout the show asks women to “stand up and salute,” which the cast members do as an act of empowerment. Is use of military imagery in this case a subversion, or just a lack of awareness? Hard to say, but it did not sit too well with me. The fictional president in the show might not need to go to war, but a president Nikki Haley might.
Criticisms aside, a good chunk of the sketches were truly gut-busting and original. Some examples include a cast member in a giant T-Rex suit lambasting men for being distracted by her appearance, a song about perfection that took a delightfully creepy turn, a wacky and welcome improv interlude incorporating audience suggestions, and a podcast parody of rich out of touch bourgeois women. By and far the best and most memorable sketch took place at a Weight Watchers meeting, with DeBacco playing a 12 year old and Plummer as an adult at the same meeting. Here the jokes landed hard, and had real heart.
I did find myself wishing each sketch had been as thoughtful and funny as this last one in particular. Regardless, the bottom line is you will likely find yourself having a good time at She the People. A DJ on stage keeps the energy up by having the cast dance to catchy pop music between scenes, and each sketch is so quick that if you like one less, you won’t have too long to think about it. It’s political popcorn: salty all around, with clumps of butter in some places, but who doesn’t love a little grease?