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.