Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: It's My Party, The Women and Comedy Project

It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Produced by 1812 Productions, written and directed by Jennifer Childs, with Melanie Cotton, Charlotte Ford, Drucie McDaniel, Bi Jean Ngo, Cathy Simpson, Susan Riley Stevens, Cheryl Williams.

Review: It's My Party, The Women and Comedy Project


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

It took two years, roughly 100 interviews, a dozen workshops and two and a half hours in three acts, for 1812 Productions to birth It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. But Jennifer Childs’ examination of why women are funny (Christopher Hitchens’ infamous Vanity Fair article stating the opposite gets mentioned and drop-kicked out of the room early on) still seems to be suffering some labor pains. 

The trouble comes from both the show’s content and its form. Its ensemble of seven includes some of Philly’s funniest and best-loved performers: Melanie Cotton, Charlotte Ford, Drucie McDaniel, Bi Jean Ngo, Cathy Simpson, Susan Riley Stevens and Cheryl Williams. And while each gets the opportunity to riff an Anna Deavere Smith-style anecdote or two, not all work as comedy, which is the point of the whole effort. Simpson’s tale of lovemaking in lockdown? Hilarious. Williams’ bout with breast cancer?   Brave, touching, but not funny. (You want funny breast cancer? Google Tig Notaro and be richly rewarded with a brilliant standup routine and overt lesbian perspective, something sorely missing from this show.)

Distractingly, Childs wedges each act into an ill-fitting device. The first, “The Lecture” presents a faux-doctoral dissertation on female humor interrupted by a chorus--literally, a sextet of pink prom-dress clad women representing the “Tri-State Community College Chorus.” The second, “The Ritual” performed by said chorus, adopts a round-robin style familiar to anyone who’s seen, say, The Vagina Monologues. (By the way, the act one vagina singalong? Funny.) The third act, “The Rave,” presents a sort of dance party, wherein the chorus raps and imagines what their own “party” might look like, with mixed success. Each act has highlights, but only act two contains enough structure--and most important--humor, to anchor the show. 

For this piece to truly strike comedy gold, Childs needs a heavy-handed dramaturg by her side to help dig out its nuggets. There’s entirely too much pep-talking and self-affirmation taking up valuable stage time and undermining her goals. While it’s admirable that Stevens’ “party” sees her watching herself with an uncritical eye, admiring her own flaws and embracing the joy in her life, this does not, as she asserts, make her funny. Ford’s rap-battle-cry “I’m so damn smart I’ll make your head whirl/I’m like Steven Hawking, if he were a girl,” that makes her funny. Free the jokes, and audience laughter will be all the pep-talking anyone needs.

Playing at: Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. Through Sunday, May 19. Tickets: $22 to $38. Information: 215-592-9560 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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