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CULTURE TO GO

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Old-school feminism

The Heidi Chronicles

Through Oct. 21

Mad Cow Theatre

$24-$26; 407-297-8788

www.madcowtheatre.com

There’s a reason that “feminist comedy” isn’t much of a growth industry – the institutional repression of feminine potential isn’t really a laughing matter. Stepping into Mad Cow Theatre and seeing a set scrawled with notable quotes on feminism (Pat Robertson’s screed that it “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children … and become lesbians” is highlighted) prepares one for a polemic. So it’s a welcome surprise how fully and freely the laughter flows in director Katrina Ploof’s production of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles.

When it won the Tony and Pulitzer upon its 1989 Broadway debut, the play was hailed as a timely exploration of the challenges faced by the “superwomen” of the baby-boom generation. Today it seems more like a museum-exhibit glimpse into an earlier era, a sense heightened by the period pop music and mass-media projections (by Michael Montgomery and Kurt James Wagner) punctuating the scene transitions. We meet Heidi Holland (Leander Suleiman), a brainy wallflower, and her flirty friend Susan (Alexis Jackson) at a 1965 school dance, back when the ability to “twist and smoke” simultaneously was the height of cool. In the opening scenes, Heidi encounters the two men who will orbit her existence for the next quarter-century: sweetly sarcastic Peter Patrone (Todd Allen Long), who might be Heidi’s soulmate if he “played for her team,” and left-leaning journalist Scoop Rosenbaum (Michael Marinaccio), whose Clintonian charm nearly outweighs his oily arrogance.

Over the course of three decades, Heidi becomes a symbol for her demographic’s dilemma, yearning to “have it all” despite living in an “either/or” world. As Heidi struggles to balance her art-historian vocation with the void of her personal life, I found myself becoming increasingly irritated with her. Take that as a commendation, not condemnation, of Suleiman’s performance; supremely self-centered, with a penchant for hesitant mumbling, Heidi is a difficult heroine to embrace. The supporting cast is solid, particularly Jamie Middleton as a militant lesbian and plastic talk-show host. The show really sparks to life when Marinaccio’s lothario is on stage: Despite his despicable demeanor, he’s the only character I’d want to have a drink with. Though Heidi sometimes seems as dated as oversized ’80s shoulder pads, the jokes are still fresh after 20 years.

— Seth Kubersky

Out-to-lunch feminism

The Sarah Silverman Program

Season premiere 10:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 3

Comedy Central

www.comedycentral.com

Outrageousness just gets more outrageous every week. If it isn’t everyone in South Park vying to see who can be gayest, it’s Barbara Bush seducing Lil’ Dick Cheney on Lil’ Bush and Kathy Griffin shouting, “Suck it, Jesus!” after winning an Emmy. This week’s entry into the annals of the over-the-top can be found on The Sarah Silverman Program, in which Sarah happily reminisces about her three abortions (Is the plural “abortia?” she wonders) in a montage set to Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

Twisted? Oh, yeah. But if you like Silverman’s humor – and I do – you’ll appreciate the new episodes of The Sarah Silverman Program, which returns to Comedy Central for a second season (if you can call six shows a “season”). Silverman’s back in her woman-child guise, this time joining an anti-abortion group she thinks wants to protect already-born babies from being killed. Next week, she defends herself in court against charges of bestiality because she licked her dog’s ass. She did it, yes, but “just to see what it tastes like” since the dog seems to love it so.

This would simply be outrageousness for the sake of being outrageous if it weren’t for the lessons – sometimes genuine and sometimes warped – imparted each week. In the abortion episode, the group Sarah joins doesn’t just protest; it plots to blow up the local clinic, which teaches Sarah the hypocrisy of some who claim to value “life.” OK, that’s an obvious ending, but there’s a twist involving Sarah removing a foreign object from a friend’s body that’s both wildly inappropriate and extremely funny.

The dog-licking episode has a better moral having to do with gay marriage and Sarah’s gay friends Brian (Brian Posehn) and Steve (Steve Agee). Between that lesson, Sarah going to rehab to “cure” herself of her one-time experiment and Brian and Steve playing the Game of Life with Sarah’s sister, Laura (Laura Silverman), and boyfriend, Jay (Jay Johnston), it’s the better of the two episodes Comedy Central provided for review. Probably because it’s more, you know, outrageous.

Marc D. Allan

arts@orlandoweekly.com

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