Review: ‘She The People’ at the Second City at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

It’s common knowledge that the female cast members of Saturday Night Live like Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones practically run the high-profile comedy sketch show. The myth that women cannot be funny is as tired as it is simply delusional, and SNL– as well as shows like Broad City and films like Girls Trip and Bridesmaids — hit the nail on the coffin of this misconception, often nonchalantly excluding a male presence because, well, audiences aren’t missing anything!

Katie Caussin, Atra Asdou, and Carisa Barreca in She The People. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
Katie Caussin, Atra Asdou, and Carisa Barreca in She The People. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

This is resoundingly the case in the Second City’s new all-female sketch comedy show She The People, playing through January 6th at Wooly Mammoth, the group’s habitual D.C. stomping grounds. Performed by a cast of six and directed by Carly Heffernan, She The People is a dip into the often hilariously unbelievable or absurd situations that women– queer women, women of color, plus-sized women– find themselves in on a daily basis, and it does so not just playfully, but with a deep intelligence and purpose that never veers into the pedantic.

Among the issues raised and mocked is gender disparity in the workplace, with one of the performers attempting to give a powerpoint presentation donning a massive inflatable T-Rex costume (her face is understandably obscured here), scrutinizing the notion that women must try so much harder and be judged to such a ridiculous standard when it comes to what they decide to wear to the office (Do I look too attractive? Frumpy? Are you so threatened by my tiny T-Rex claws and oversized blow-up skull that you can’t pay attention to my metrics?).

The opening sketch, a version of the board game “The Game of Life” aptly renamed “Privilege” has Carissa Barreca play the white character, Alex Bellisle play the rainbow, or queer character, and the DC-based Kazi Jones play the black character. All three performers are provocatively matched with their apparent identities. It would seem the game is rigged: Barreca effortlessly amassas points as she evades tax fraud and gets into an Ivy League school despite mediocre grades, while Jones gets “randomly” searched by TSA (zero points), but so goes the lawless game of privilege!

The men that deserve it are rightfully skewered– a MAGA look-alike and a vaping EDM bro are staged in a game show called “You Oughta Know!” where they reveal, naturally, that they know a lot about Kim Kardashian and very little about the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Accords. But men (especially those of you of the straight and white variety) should welcome the challenge and know that the ladies take no prisoners, and that includes even those of their own gender.

DC hometown favorite Maggie Wilder. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
DC hometown favorite Maggie Wilder. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

A short sketch that has a group of four friends fawning over the nifty look of an authentic speakeasy is cleverly interrupted by a host that only has seating for two. “Whites this way” he decides, and the two white ladies in the group of course can’t refuse entry into one of the most exclusive bars in town! Authentic speakeasy, am I right? In another sketch, the myth of the “quirky” girl– you know, that inscrutable tote-bag wearing girl who doesn’t own a phone and seems to only have male friends– is parodied by Maggie Wilder (a familiar face for DC audiences who might recognize the wonderful local actress from last year’s Wooly production of An Octoroon and Ford Theater’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf).

Wilder is also excellent in a bit that explores the werewolf-esque nightmare that is– the day you realize you’re turning into your mother! As someone in her late twenties, there is really something about that premise that hits close to home, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine this not to be the case with every woman in the audience for at least one of the sketches.

Every once in a while, there will be a sketch that doesn’t exactly hit its intended note, usually bogged down by the sad reality of the sexism that fuels the conceit (as in a “he said, she said” playground parable that will prove reminiscent of the Kavanaugh ordeal). At its absolute best, She The People is self-aware and self-critical while being simultaneously empowering, as in a nearly Caryl Churchill-esque sketch that showcases all six members of the cast at brunch complete with mimosas, laughably frustrating food orders (or lack thereof?), and calls for the systematic dismantling of the patriarchy and the prison-industrial complex.

I hate to gush, but the six ladies of She The People were across the board terrific– Wilder, Bellisle, Jones, but also Katie Caussin (whose “mom laugh” is terrific) and Atra Asdou (whose face contorts with a Jim Carrey-esque playfulness). My personal kudos go out to Barreca, who commits to each of her roles with near athletic effort and whose striptease sketch of endless spanx layers is one for the books. I never considered myself much of a comedy person, historically preferring the austere audiences of old realist plays and the like– but She The People truly won me over, and I believe audiences, men and women, gay and black and brown alike, will find something to enjoy here. Maybe even learn.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minutes intermission

The Second City’s She The People plays through January 6, 2018 at Wooly Mammoth Theater Company. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office.