The Secretaries: A poem in two stanzas
—by an embarrassed young man
Twenty-nine days, so the cycle goes,
When for these secretaries the blood flows;
Some think a “period” in moon’s waning,
But it’s fine fabric they are gaining.
And I bet “damsels” you also thought—
Innocent young ladies, formal and taut—
When reading “secretaries,” was it necessary,
Surmising “feminine” from the gender binary?
THE SECRETARIES paints an odious canvas with a pretty brush, as the tight stitching of five seemingly straitlaced secretaries begins to fray. On the outside, they model ideal, well-behaved, unmarried women in patriarchal society: Abstinent, morally pure, and consumed with appearance in diet and dress—even sacrificing the quality of their health and fabric to lure cheap men. But beneath their shin-length dresses and silk-laced undergarments—a description that is not based on a hunch—a different tale is tailored, turning heterosexist norms and expectations on their heads.
THE SECRETARIES was written in 1993 by The Five Lesbian Brothers (Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, and Lisa Kron) and has become a cult play along the lines of The Rocky Horror Show. Jack Tamburri directs this classic with a stellar cast and a creative support team.as part of Quince Productions’ GayFest! 2015.
Meet the virgin secretaries and their sexy boss:
Patty Johnson (Emily Schuman) is excited to start her new job as a receptionist at the Cooney lumber mill in Big Bone, Oregon—a town that, surprisingly, runs rampant with sexual promiscuity. With hair as richly dark as Anne Frank and as curly as a young Shirley Temple, this sweet, charming gem packs a naïve enthusiasm bigger than her petite frame can contain as she over-zealously strives to fit in with her new colleagues, all of whom are seasoned secretaries with a dark secret.
Ashley (Jennifer MacMillan) is the “perfect” girl, really the perfect suck-up, whose ego is comparable to her height—towering over the others. She is Patty’s arch rival, but if you were to tell Patty this, it would be news to her. Ashley humbly draws attention to her accomplishments to win the approval of the secretarial boss, the Ms. Susan Curtis (Sarah Schol), a zaftig woman who, through the heavy weight of her hard work and manipulation, has rightfully squeezed some space for herself on Mt. Olympus as goddess over the realm of hole-punchers, fax machiners, and transferred call takers.
Peaches (Katherine Perry), a fitting name for a secretary, enjoys sweet food to the point of gesturing the bird to Cooney’s chauvinistic, hawk-eyed man-in-charge, Ron Kembunksher, a faceless entity whose voice soars over the stage through a make-believe intercom and whose managerial eye is acute for cute women. The secretarial staple of slim-fast beverages, air, and gossip is not enough to curb her appetite.
Dawn Midnight (Amber Orion) has a sexual light switch for petite Patty which changes like night and day. She is the lesbian of the group. Correction, she is a lesbian of the group. Dawn wrestles with her attraction to Patty, who is dating Buzz Benikee, a dimly lit butch mill worker with an impressive resume in the Peace Corps (played convincingly by lumber-jacketed Amber Orion).
When Patty first starts at Cooney, she is forced to learn the secretarial lingo—a kind of Pidgin English with a phonological system of clicks and giggles, intelligible only to the four experienced office ladies. Throughout the story, Patty grows increasingly discouraged with how little her advanced collegiate degree in secretarial sciences has prepared her for the real world. Even her coursework in filing and desk organization didn’t teach her how to play Twister in her underwear, how to switch seats with a psychologically deranged driver in an 80-mile-an-hour vehicle at 2 AM, or how to handle a persistent lesbian coworker who comes on to her strongly—not taking no for answer. Young Patty also learns how to synchronize her period with her female coworkers, and, most importantly, how to get a fine quality flannel lumberjack jacket, free of charge, like all the other secretaries.
By play’s end, the innocent young secretary discovers the many secret language codes and practical skills of her squeaking colleagues, who can strike an axe as expertly as the keys on their typewriters. After passing through her initiation, 29 days long, the bloodthirsty instinct of her inner secretary streaks down her semi-nude body.
THE SECRETARIES is a dark comedy filled with a twisted plot and twisted characters, balancing the tightrope between the sane and the surreal. Darker than Mean Girls (2004), and funnier than Twin Peaks (1990-91), this comedic thriller with its hilarious performances by five beautiful actors grabbed the audience.
The Five Lesbian Brothers pay homage to Shakespeare, presenting the lumber mill office with five witches, reminiscent of the boiling cauldron dream sequence from Macbeth, except that the young witches were dressed beautifully (costume design by John Hodges) and the office walls were spattered with an ominous red.
Warning: Don’t see this erotic-thriller-parody if you take life too seriously
While THE SECRETARIES is for people who like thrillers, eroticism, twisted comedy, and the surreal, elementary school teachers who are looking for a realistic, educational, and uplifting drama will be disappointed—to say the least. However, a hip audience that appreciates a wicked sense of humor and fight scenes to a Cyndi Lauper soundtrack, will be pleased with pee in their pants from all the laughter, all the terror.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that I am the “embarrassed young man” and poet who didn’t even know how to slap the juicy ass of the scantily dressed Peaches when she gyrated in front of me, enticing me to go ahead. Maybe I should see THE SECRETARIES again, sitting in the front row—to lose my ass-slapping virginity! [Studio X, 1340 S.13th Street] August 9-22, 2015; Quince Productions.