The monumentally narcissistic world of self-help gurus is given a jaundiced perusal by Emmy Award-nominated comedy writer-performer Debbie Kasper (“Roseanne,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”) and two-time American Comedy Award nominee Sheila Kay. Performing multiple roles, Kasper and Kay are as dependent on the cooperative interaction of the audience as they are on their own well-honed characterizations. Despite a few lapses, when audience members failed to rise to the occasion, “Venus Attacks” is a dead-on, often hilarious parody of “Love yourself and to hell with everyone else” empowerment seminars.
Led by the egomaniacal Divine Ms. X (Kasper) and her slavishly upbeat assistant Starshine (Kay), the Venus (Be You, But Be You Better) Seminar is designed to help women find their ultimate potential no matter who they have to run over in the process. As Ms. X enthusiastically declares, “You know what you are to me: someone I haven’t used yet.”
She becomes a bit put off when she realizes there are men in the audience but decides to use them to prove her point that all males are either “monkey men” or “slut men.” Along the way, she demands the women in the audience accept a plethora of self-help maxims to live by such as “Let the truth be a doughnut, you be a hole” and “Don’t be you, it’s so yesterday.”
To give added weight to her teachings, Ms. X has invited a number of colorful, inspirational guest speakers, including outrageously speech-impaired self-esteem surgeon Dr. Simpatico (Kasper) who demands that women take their happiness into their own hands. “Be your own lover,” she declares. “Learn to master-date.” Casting a superior sneer at the men she declares, “I am the homecoming queen, you are the float.”
Foul-mouthed female wise guy wannabe Carmella Gambino (Kay) leads the audience in a series of anti-stress exercises designed to “awaken your inner bitch.” And the thoroughly mannish relationship therapist Sister Zing (Kasper) offers salient wisdom on how to build lasting relationships. “If you lower your standards, there’s men everywhere,” she affirms. In picking up men she suggests, “Younger men are better; their life stories are so much shorter.”
The highlight of the evening is the arrival of Dr. Candy Box (Kay), a 98-year-old sexologist who shuffles onto the stage using a walker. Before fielding a number of sex advice questions from the audience, she declares that the human relationship is “not about communication, it is about fornication.”
Both Kasper and Kay are facile improvisers who are able to take whatever the audience gives them and turn it into fodder for the faux seminar. They are aided immensely by the understated direction of Alexander Yannis Stephano and the simple but effective production designs of Diane Grayson Huyck (sets), Kieran C. Illes (lights) and Pat Sierchio (sound).