At first I planned to take my theater-loving teenage daughter along with me for the Brave New Workshop’s 279th sketch-comedy revue, “Babe Lincoln and the Vajazzled Badge of Courage.” I thought only about the clever first part of the title, before having second thoughts about the second.
The show has mature content that is best discussed by mothers and daughters, not fathers and daughters. And it is a live performance whose humor is not restricted by gender, even if it seems to be pitched at women.
“Babe Lincoln,” which opened over the weekend at the workshop’s Hennepin Avenue theater in downtown Minneapolis, is an irreverent, brassy mashup of history and hormones. The show marries two zeitgeist trends. It taps into our fascination with Abraham Lincoln 150 years after he saved the union and issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The revue follows on the heels of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film that stars Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th president.
The workshop production, which is written, directed and performed by the sharp duo of Lauren Anderson and Katy McEwen, also implicitly manifests the increasing freedom of women in America, even as many obstacles remain.
One of those barriers, Anderson explained early on, is the idea that women can’t be funny. She didn’t have to call the names Gilda Radner, Whoopi Goldberg or Tina Fey.
Through musical skits and comedic sketches, Anderson and McEwen offered uproarious retorts to preconceived notions. They celebrated pantsuits (hat-tip, Hillary Clinton) as well as condescension disguised as compliments. They went in and out of characters in “Saturday Night Live”-style sketches, including one in which an overzealous “Vote No” mom wants her lesbian daughter to get married just so that she can have a ceremony.
There were oblique and obvious references to the just-concluded political season. In one skit, set in an Arizona where personhood is declared at the egg stage, a woman gets stopped by authorities who are intent on protecting her ovaries. Kafka-esque confusion (and hilarity) ensues.
All through the evening, McEwen and Anderson gleefully deliver cutting comedy with a forward-looking social message. That may make the show sound heavier than it is. Its primary purpose is to evoke laughter.
On Saturday night, the two comedians offered an improvised third act. The pair were joined by other members of the company and special guests. It’s a marvel to watch actors make up storylines on the spot, tapping each other on the shoulder and taking turns to take whatever narrative ideas are thrown out by the audience into surprising new directions. The subjects could be unicorns or rabbits, sex or beer. You can almost see the actors think as they went off on far-out and sometimes outrageous tangents that led right back to earth, and to giddy laughter.