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‘Women Behind Bars’
by ROBERT MASSIMI 3 hours ago in ENTERTAINMENT
Funny to the Core
In 1976, Women Behind Bars was first performed at The Truck and Warehouse Theater at 79 East 4th St. Written by Tom Eyen (Dreamgirls and Dirtiest Show In Town), Women is a spoof on jailed women of the late 1950s.
The show is about women from all walks of life locked up for various reasons. Some of the women are insane, some on the border of insanity. The women battle the Matron (Kelli Lynn Harrison) and each other. We see these women trying to survive in the confines of prison but in a very funny way.
The set, the lighting, the costumes, as well as the direction are all great in this production at the 13th Street Repertory Theater. Everything blends nicely. From the very beginning of the show, we are treated to a film of what TV looked like back in the 50s and 60s. The audience watches women’s wrestling, very apropos to the play we are about to see. After the first wrestling match, we see the many commercials of that era, from Maxwell House Coffee, Coca Cola and on to air conditioners.
Allison Hohman’s lighting is set to the romantic side. It gives the audience an edgy feel to this even paced play. Hohman’s lighting is the backbeat to this play. She sets the tone with her deft lighting sequences. The 13th Street Theater makes us feel like we are watching this from our family room. Hohman gives us this intimate feeling.
Equally brilliant are the costumes by Everett Clark. From the fishnet stockings to the lab coats, Clark keeps the performance interesting with some great comedic costuming. From the traditional prison garb to the eight-inch platform shoes, Clark is raucous with his outlandish costumes.
Director Joe Battista did a masterful job in putting on such an entertaining show. Last season, Battista directed another winner Before We’re Gone. In Women Behind Bars, all the actors’ movements and comedic timing were effortless and fluid. From Janel Koloski, the ditzy prostitute to Meridith Nicholaev, as Ada, this cast delivers an outstanding performance. Every actor was terrific and it goes to say that Joe Battista kept all the actors in a tight range with a no holes barred staging.
Women Behind Bars is a great spoof comedy. Like Little Shop of Horrors, this play makes great fun of the situation and its characters. Guadalupe (Marlene Villafane), rapid-fire tirades in Spanish left the audience in stitches. Often ready to do battle with just about anyone, she would then turn on a dime as a passive, reasonable person which made her many scenes thoroughly entertaining.
The women are continuously at odds with each other, Granny (Mary Tierney), is a bible thumper, a bigoted individual who hates just about, Gloria (Amy Stillar) for being a lesbian, Guadalupe for being Puerto Rican and Blanche (Jena Mroz), being white trash. Jo-Jo (Erika Degraff), is also not immune from Granny’s insults. A tough woman from the inner city, she gives it right back to this lifer who comically borders on insanity. Always understated, Granny hits hard at both Matron and her flunky, Louise, played by the very talented Andy Crosten. Daniel Yaiullo had various roles and was a standout the entire evening.
Women Behind Bars plays till the beginning of April and should not be missed. The staging on such a small space is well done and brilliantly managed. Perhaps the best part of the evening was the hilarious shower scene. Both exotic and creative, we watch the women shower from beyond a curtain, feeling like voyeurs, these women are a silhouette to us as we watch their antics.
Women Behind Bars has had a great following over the years and has performed in off-Broadway theaters since 1976. It has a cult-like following much like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Women is as funny today, thanks to this cast and direction as it has ever been.
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I have been writing on theater since 1982. A graduate from Manhattan College B.S. A member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, which recognizes excellence in both English and Science. I have produced 12 shows on and off Broadway. I’ve seen over700 shows
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