KPBS AIRDATE: March 27, 1996
I have a confession to make. I was not one of the 110,000 San Diegans who attended the 534 performances of “Six Women With Brain Death” over the course of 22 months beginning in 1987.
I just avoided it. I’m not a big fan of musical revues, especially ones with silly titles and premises. So I escaped, and just nodded when women (and men) rhapsodized about how funny it was. How talented the cast. How accurate, etcetera. I always smiled politely and said nothing. But frankly, I was a little embarrassed. It was the longest running show in San Diego history, and it became a kind of trophy in my personal Theatrical Hall of Shame.
Then, in the middle of this 20th anniversary season of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, when the West coast premiere of “Lennon” was canceled due to problems with music rights, a reprise of “Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know” was stuck into the March-April slot. Advance sales were so brisk, the show was extended three weeks before it even opened. This time, I was determined to experience ‘Brain Death’ myself. But instead of rendering me comatose, it actually got my humor neurons firing. Sure, it’s retro and goofy and puerile. But it’s a helluva lot of fun.
MUSIC “Expiring Minds”
The six women are very talented. Four are from the original San Diego cast — the show was first performed by its Kansas City writers ten years ago, and it has been all over the country since. It’s an ensemble piece, but still, there were standouts: local favorite Susan Mosher and, on loan from L.A. and I-wish-we-saw-her-here-more-often, the versatile and hilarious Sharon Murray.
These are women who feel “outmoded, outvoted, and overloaded.” They have, among other things, “tabloid dementia.” The headlines they frequently quote, like the shtick and the songs, are sometimes silly, sometimes humorous, but best when they’re not trying to be serious.
There’s lots of old news in the script, which was only mildly updated for this production. But the underlying attitudes, about the “collapse of culture” are still fresh. Little gems like “whoever is in control is out of control,” and “Even the mundane has become inexplicable” could have been written yesterday. But the references to Charlie Manson, Freddie Kruger and magazine sex quizzes are more than a bit frayed around the edges.
Technically, the show is simple but slick. A super, four-piece band offers dynamic backup, and Sam Woodhouse serves up spunky direction, with cute choreographic moves by Steve Anthony. The only technical misstep is Cheryl Lindley’s costumes, which manage to be unfailingly unflattering for each of six very disparate body types. It might have been anti-Barbie intentional, but it didn’t work for me.
But aside from that, and the it’s an escapist evening of large and small laughs that actually, under it all, has something to say. Which, in my theater book, makes it a lot more amusing than those mindless, plotless revues like “Forever Plaid” and “Suds,” that are nothing more than a lame excuse to sing some good songs. These tunes may not be classics, but the sentiments are. There’s more-than-occasional beer-can-smashing male-bashing, but you can take it, guys. And if not, you women should just grab your girlfriends and go!
MUSIC “Expiring Minds”
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.