In “The Secretaries,” a dark comedy with a deceptively simple title, the Five Lesbian Brothers manage to pay homage to influences as far flung as Hollywood T&A king Russ Meyer and Off Broadway’s late campmeister Charles Ludlam, gross out their audience with some well-placed blood packets, and, within the first five minutes of the show, rhyme “secretarial” with “burial.” If the troupe takes too much time getting where it’s going, or retreading where it’s been, it finds its own quirky place nonetheless.
Toying with any number of lesbian stereotypes and tough-girl, B-movie images, the Five Lesbian Brothers comedy troupe (cast members Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy , Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron) gives this pulp fiction a decidedly theatrical and subversive bent. Most of it works very well, some more than very well (Healey’s demented Bryn Mawr accent is a killer), and only late in the nearly two-hour running time (sans intermission) does it feel stretched.
The rambling story is told in film noirish flashback by preppy biz-school grad Patty Johnson (Dibbell). From the first day on her new secretarial job at the Cooney Lumber Mill, Patty senses something amiss with the ready-made clique of steno-padded cohorts. Led by a chic, ultracool blond office manager named Susan Curtis (Healey), the Stepford secretaries soon integrate a confused Patty into their bizarre cult of Slimfast shakes, regulated menstrual cycles, secret rituals — and murder. It seems the secretaries don’t come by their lumberjack coats by peaceful means.
Besides some dead-on dialogue and comic bits (the secretaries occasionally slip into a secret language of giggles and typewriter-like clicking noises), the show is most notable for the performers’ inspired caricatures: Dibbell’s perhaps not-so-good good girl, Angelos’ predatory, big-haired lesbian, Davy’s office brown-nose, Kron’s self-deprecating frump and Healey’s vixenish career woman are right on target in their sendups. Much like the Ridiculous Theatrical Company — a kindred spirit — the Five Lesbian Brothers seem to love their characters while skewering them, no easy feat.
Director Kate Stafford plays with pacing to generally good effect, moving the cast from a mime-like crawl in one scene to a frenzied cat fight in another. What she doesn’t do is edit, and that’s unfortunate. The last half-hour drags, in part because the climax has been foretold but mostly because of repetition. The finale, bloody as it is, might not be too little, but it is too late.
Still, the Brothers seem to be having a Grand Guignol time on James Schuette’s efficient set (office, motel, sacrificial ground), and the audience responds in kind. The Five Lesbian Brothers seem poised to develop a cult at least as obsessive as the blood-drenched secretarial pool they portray.