Cartoonist Alison Bechdel isn't famous just for having won the MacArthur Award, or because the stage version of her graphic novel Fun Home won this year's Tony for best musical. There's also "The Bechdel Test," a checklist for judging gender bias in film. (1) The movie must have at least two named female characters; (2) they must talk to each other; and (3) the talk must be about something other than men. The Bechdel Test rules out most major movies of the past 30 years. That's another reason theater is better than film: Women and their lives are explored on stage in a way unknown in Hollywood.
Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret's latest production, Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women, is a case in point. This two-character show is a revue-style collection of black-out skits and songs examining what women talk about when a man's not in the room.
Though it may be suburban and hetero in outlook, there's joy to be had seeing a subject covered in a manner never broached in most popular entertainment.
Writer/performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein created the script in 2004 as part of a Denver-based comedy series. It was an instant hit — the duo toured, and CLO presented the show back in 2012. This production is a home-grown affair, with local performers (Sara Williams and Julianne Avolio) and a local director (Luanne Nunes de Char.)
It's impossible not to like Girls Only. Williams and Avolio, brimming with charm, are seemingly having the time of their lives on stage.
The first half doesn't quite take off; Williams and Avolio, using their own names, recount the experiences of Gehring and Klein in the first person and it never doesn't feel forced. But the second half soars in two back-to-back skits: a spoof of craft shows using feminine, um, "product," and a silent bit in which the performers put on panty hose to the music of the Nutcracker's "Waltz of the Flowers." That Gehring and Klein (and Williams and Avolio) manage to locate and detonate such laughs from such quotidian subjects suggests what makes Girls Only such a delight.