"Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women" means what it says. While there may have been two or three men in the audience on opening night, this rollicking, good-natured sketch comedy is most definitely a female affair.
"Girls Only" stakes out its territory even before the show begins. As the audience files into the Hennepin Stages space and jostles for seats, creators and actors Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein lounge around in their underwear on a stage that has been transformed by designer Erica Zaffarano into a shocking pink preteen bedroom. Surrounded by stuffed animals and David Cassidy posters, the women giggle over fashion magazines and strike exaggerated model poses. It's a slumber party, and the audience is invited.
Gehring and Klein are two-thirds of the Colorado-based comedy trio A.C.E. "Girls Only" is based on their childhood diaries. Entries range from the dramatic (a 10-year-old Gehring asks: "Can I last a weekend without my lover, Douglas E. Werner?") to the wistful, the mundane and the bizarre (all of Klein's entries begin with "Dear Dennis"), enlivened by the duo's sure comedic timing.
Intermixed with the diary sessions are a variety of song-and-dance numbers, scripted sketches, a shadow-puppet show and improvisational pieces. In a clever sendup of "Up With People," they do a classroom presentation of "Up With Puberty," complete with geeky outfits and awkward dance moves. As two post-menopausal women, they present "Craft Corner," a skit extolling myriad creative uses for their no longer needed tampons. A pantyhose ballet, a musical tribute to the bra and a vintage Folgers coffee commercial are among the many hilarious bits integrated into "Girls Only."
While the scripted pieces are spot-on, it's the improvisational elements that cement the rapport between performers and audience. At one point Gehring and Klein dash into the auditorium and solicit the loan of a couple of purses. They then create a sketch based on the contents, eliciting laughs and groans of recognition along the way. In another piece they invite audience members to come onstage and select an item from their exhaustive supply of childhood memorabilia. That item then becomes the basis for the next comedic riff.
This isn't deep, angst-filled material. Rather, the message here seems to be to lighten up -- about your appearance, your history, your lines, wrinkles and extra pounds -- and enjoy yourself. That it succeeds so well is due to the warm rapport and intimacy Gehring and Klein (who will turn over their roles to local actors later in the run) create with their audiences. It makes for a giddy evening that will conjure the slumber-partygoer in even the most jaded of us.