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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Women Who Play Men, Men Who Play Women

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The local all-woman sketch comedy group Broadminded returns to the stage with a new show this week. With their regular rehearsal, writing and performance cycle, Broadminded have the dedication to match their intelligence and talent.

Stacy Babl, Anne Graff LaDisa, Melissa Kingston and Megan McGee’s new show Science and Surplus(June 4 -12at the Alchemist Theatre) explores the comical side of contemporary science and technology. The theme is almost as wide in scope as that of the group’s last show, Confessions. Among other things, the group examines how technology affects relationships and how Pluto feels about its new sub-planetary status. Working with minimal sets, props and very simple costuming (the group typically performs in jeans and Broadminded T-shirts), the group focuses their creative energy squarely on the writing, where it belongs. The simplicity is not without its cleverness. Inevitably a sketch will come up that requires one of the women to play a man. The iconic visual shorthand they’ve come up with for this is actually quite effective: women playing men wear baseball caps (usually backward). Sometimes it’s the simplest things that work the best.

Men paying women have it considerably more difficult where the stage is concerned, particularly in fully costumed theater productions like the Ken Ludwig farce Leading Ladies at the Sunset Playhouse (June 4 - 26). Directed by the Sunset’s artistic director Mark Salentine, the show is about a couple of actors who pose as women in order to get an inheritance. This past March, Matthew J. Patten emailed me to apologize in advance for being in another show that put him in drag. Patten, who has appeared onstage in drag in quite a few comic shows in recent years, is a natural for that sort of thing. A towering man with a reasonably powerful build dressed as a woman has obvious comic appeal. Beyond that, Patten has a natural comic poise that works well in the types of shows that use men in drag for comic effect. “I was seriously hoping to take a hiatus from cross-dressing comic roles for awhile,” says Patten. Fate has pulled him back into a dress onstage. “I suppose there are worse things to be typecast as,“ he says.