A man among women: My night at 'Girls Only'

by John Moore | Sep 18, 2017

image

I am not afraid of the alternate uses for this feminine product as suggested to me by the women of "Girls Only." Looking forward to it, in fact. Photobombing: Carla Kaiser Kotrc.

 

What happens when a man ignores the writing on the wall?

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

(Note: This essay was originally published in 2014. Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women' returns to the Galleria Theatre from Sept. 21-Oct. 22, 2017.)

This doesn’t happen every night at the theatre: At intermission, a kindly female usher came up to me at my seat and asked if I intended to use the men’s room during the break. I did a quick mental bladder assessment and determined … OK, pretty sure I'm good. … Why?

 “Well, then – with your permission – we are going to open up the men’s room for the ladies to use,” she said.

I never thought I would ever hold such power.  But I was raised by a good woman. I knew what was good for me. I gave my blessing.

Girls OnlyThat’s just sensible strategy, I thought. After all, in a room with more than 200 audience members, I was the only one – presumably – sporting the anatomical equivalent of a caveman’s club.

Sunday night was my first time seeing Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women. That makes me no different from almost every other man in the world. But for the longest time, this fact has separated me from the more than 110,000 women who have seen Girls Only since 2008.

That made this a theatregoing night six years in the making.

You have to understand that I was the theatre critic at The Denver Post when noted local improv comedians Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein debuted their modest little slumber-party comedy at The Avenue Theater. At the time, I tried to see just about every local production I could fit into my schedule, and certainly any original work created by local actors. It was an immediate hit that ran for an extended seven-week run. But, like feminine wiles, Girls Only remained largely a mystery to me.

The exclusionary nature of the title aside, I did want to go. And I would have, but, in those early days at The Avenue, they weren’t kidding with that title. I was not allowed in. No guy was. Once again, here I was: A middle-aged white man on the wrong end of the discrimination and exclusion propagated by the women who have long controlled this country.

But I relented.  I didn’t even try to dress up and sneak in. We sent a female staff writer to review the show for The Denver Post instead. Soon the show was building so much momentum, it was picked up for a run here at the Denver Center’s Garner-Galleria Theatre. That was a history-making moment. The Denver Center's Broadway division had never before optioned a locally grown play for a full production in the big house. Or in this case … the big cabaret house. Girls Only ran continuously in The Garner-Galleria for more than two years. Additional productions have sprung up in Des Moines, Charlotte, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Houston and others. The show has grossed more than $2.5 million in ticket sales.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who likes being kept in the dark. My brothers did that to me enough times as a kid whenever they got bored and locked me in a closet. I did due diligence by writing with regularity about the show and its progress. But still, I had not seen it for myself. Later on, I learned that the Denver Center, being much more mindful of, you know – the law – than my friends at The Avenue Theater, never actually forbid men from seeing the show. Some men, I hear told, have come back to see it several times.

image

Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein singing 'Up With Puberty' from 'Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women.' Photo by Terry Shapiro.

 

Fast forward to the recent re-opening night of Girls Only at the Galleria Theatre. By now, I was long gone from The Denver Post. Last August, I was scooped up by the Denver Center, where my job is that of an in-house journalist. My delicious duties now include snapping photographs backstage before every Denver Center opening.

Which brings us to “The Night of Jan. 16.” (That’s also the name of a play, you may know. I played the judge in a high-school production. The audience jury decides if the femme fatale is guilty of murder. But no matter how they voted, I got to scold the jury for making an obviously idiotic decision. That training well-prepared me for my future life as a theatre critic. But I digress …)

So here I was in the cramped backstage dressing room with my camera and my Girls (Only). I was trying to be a proper gentlemen despite the, shall we say … “casual nature” of my photo subjects. When Barbara and Linda began to undress right in front of me, I, of course, excused myself. They said they would call me back in when they were changed into their proper costumes. And they did just that. I walked back in to the sight of two women wearing nothing but bright, colorful bras and panties (with carefully hidden mic pacs!) … and grins from ear to ear. They snickered. I was blood in the water. My face was hot-pinker than Barbara’s bra.

“OK, you got me,” I said. “Now call me back in when you put some clothes on.”

But no, it was not a put-on. It was a take-off. “This is what we really wear to start the show,” Linda insisted.

And it was!

I promised to come back soon, see the show and write this manly first-person essay about the experience. They made me promise to bring women along. Lots of them. “You’ll need them for protection,” Barbara teased. Made sense. I didn’t want any women coming to the theatre to giggle about all things girly with their girlfriends to be made in any way self-conscious by the creepy old man sitting alone in the corner. I have my front porch for that.

Which brings us to Sunday night.

“Be afraid,” my friend Amy Board said on our way into the theatre, along with the rest of my distaff “Gaggle of Girls,” Carla Kaiser Kotrc and Sharon Kay White. I also had actor Amie MacKenzie, who understudies both of the women who act in the play, one row behind us, watching my back.

To this point, I really didn’t know what the big deal was. Sure, the evening comes with a warning: “This show contains feminine subject matter including teenage diaries, breast feeding, tampons, shadow puppets, pantyhose, menstrual cycles, slumber parties, menopause and maxi pads.”

What was on that list for ME to worry about?

Turns out, not much. Because I think a few of the actual ladies in the house were more uncomfortable than I was with the prospect of using the sticky side of your maxi pad as the equivalent of a waxing agent.

But man, were those women giggling from the first line to the final bow, both for the evident comic agility on display by these two actors, but for the rabbit hole they sent the audience down, right back into their own girlyhoods.

The night begins with the aforementioned bra-clad Gehring and Klein revisiting one of their childhood bedrooms. The women read for a bit from their actual journals, comically revealing the universal gawky, geekiness of being a teenager. Who can’t relate to a girl who formed her own one-woman club, but only had enough self-esteem to elect herself  vice-president? I once formed my own political party. I called it the Antisocial Party – “No Other Members Allowed” – but, jeez, at least I elected myself president.

image

Audience members are encouraged to leave their thoughts in a diary kept at the Galleria Theatre.

 

The night soon turns into a series of relatable comedy sketches very much in league with Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy’s Parallel Lives, or a guy-less I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change  These included sweet, sentimental and, occasionally taste-boundary-pushing revelations that were not just for the women in the house. When Linda pulled out her childhood Walkie Talkies, I was right back patrolling my home street of Dudley Court.

The audience loved a bit called The History of Women, as told by shadow puppets, and recoiled with a reminder of the way women were depicted in 1950s TV commercials. There was some soft political humor. While discussing our societal obsession with boobs, Barbara says, “We even elected one once.” To which, as if on cue, pretty much the entire audience answered back with incredulous spontaneity … “ONCE???”

The ex-theatre critic in me appreciated Girls Only most for the truly improvised moments. In one sketch, the women snag the purses of two unsuspecting women in the audience, and then build an original story out of whatever objects they find inside. They also make up parody songs on the spot. I can tell you that of all the performing arts, there is nothing more painful to sit through than improv comedy that is tentative, unsure or unclever. Girls Only makes plain that these two actors are among the best you will ever see at thinking on their feet.

As the only man, I was occasionally called out for not comprehending the meaning of the words Girls Only. But, it turns out, I was not alone. Not really. After all, there was a poster of Shaun Cassidy on the bedroom wall staring back at us like a little lost lamb. 

Read our Q&A with Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein

Girls Only strikes me as gateway theatre. Not the kind of show that attracts a regular theatregoing crowd. But the kind of show that might help turn them into more regular theatregoers.

I see about 160 plays a year, and I can tell you that I feel comfortable in any theater where people are laughing, engaged and having a good time. So rest assured, my dangling caveman club aside, I was one guy who felt right at home at Girls Only.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women: Ticket information
At a glance: Girls Only is an original comedy that celebrates the honor, truth, humor and silliness of being female with a two-woman cast and a mix of sketch comedy, improvisation, audience participation, and hilarious songs and videos.

  • Presented by DCPA Cabaret
  • Playing Sept. 21-Oct. 22
  • Garner-Galleria Theatre at the Denver Performing Ats Complex
  • Tickets start at $39
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here
  • For more, go to the Girls Only website

image

My Gaggle of only 'Girls': Carla Kaiser-Kotrc (back), Sharon Kay White (left) and Amy Board. Photo by Randy Dodd.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

POPULAR POSTS
 
ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.