"A . . . My Name Is Alice," the musical revue at Horizons Theater, is A-OK by me.
In fact, I can't imagine a better way for Horizons to launch its second decade than with this sly, spunky and altogether amusing evening of songs and sketches, which celebrates the woman of the 1980s even as it pokes fun at her. Feminism has rarely worn a more engaging face or taken such disarming stances.
Horizons' productions haven't been totally bereft of humor in the past. But the company has tended to pursue its mandate -- theater from a woman's perspective -- with an earnestness that mistrusted laughter for its own sake. When comedy surfaced, it was usually in bitter, black or ironic clothing.
"A . . . My Name Is Alice," a 1984 off-Broadway hit stitched together by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd out of swatches of material from no fewer than 28 writers and composers, has its political and sociological points to make. But it is first and foremost a gleeful entertainment, unashamed to let down its hair and kick off its Adidas.Horizons' cast of five personable and talented actresses is so quick to pick up on the fun as to suggest a whole new aspect of the woman's liberation movement -- actress liberation, or the right to engage in uninhibited tomfoolery.
There is Kathleen Goldpaugh, for example, to whom is entrusted "The French Song," one of those torchy, emotion-scarred ballads that are traditionally sung on a stool in a pink spotlight. With a ferocity worthy of Dietrich and the tremulousness of a Piaf, Goldpaugh pours her soul into a mindless succession of French phrases -- "Champs Elyse'es," la plume de ma tante, a' la carte, Chevrolet coupe'. The stupider the lyrics, the more Goldpaugh invests them with deep personal meaning. I defy you to keep a straight visage.
Then there is Barbara Rappaport, who appears periodically as an angry poet, shrouded in a black cape and flinging accusatory poems at the audience. (Since Rappaport's natural comic demeanor is one of sour impatience with the world, this is a little like unleashing a kid in a candy store.) The poems are cosmically wretched ("I am woman . . . a crippled bird"), and Rappaport, an angry exclamation point seemingly etched between her eyebrows, deftly compounds their wretchedness with a sternness Medea might envy.
Or take Sandra Bowie. (On second thought, I'll take Sandra Bowie.) She is, to say the least, a find -- a gifted performer who sings up a tempest or two, throws away a punch line with aplomb, and when she's not playing a 72-year-old woman or a championship basketball player, stands around looking downright handsome. Best of all is her portrayal of a blues singer named Honeypot Watkins, whose repertoire is rife with innuendo.
It is Honeypot's fate to fall into the hands of an aggressive shrink determined to explicate every sexual metaphor. Doesn't the singer understand that when she warbles about her handyman's wrench, she really means his . . . er? Well, you get it. Honeypot doesn't. As she attempts to deliver a Masters and Johnson version of the blues, her natural sassiness gives way to mounting dismay. Bowie all but stops the show.
Not all the numbers in "A . . . My Name Is Alice" are first-class and the authors tend to put up some obvious targets: the tyrannical grade school teacher who can still reduce grown women to trembling tots; sexist hard-hat workers ("Hey, don't ignore me. You're not that pretty!"); the driven businesswoman who becomes a success at the expense of her humanity; or fidgety ladies, attending a male striptease show and finding they like it, they like it! There is, however, usually a twist, a flip or an unexpected zinger to punch up material that's overly familiar.
Dollops of freshness are certainly provided by Terri Allen, who has Miss America good looks and a sincerity to believe in; and by Felicia Imre Colvin, who gets the short end of the stick as far as the numbers go but nonetheless adds a sweet voice and a girlish innocence to the evening's blend. "A . . . My Name Is Alice" makes no overt pronoucements about sisterhood. But under Leslie B. Jacobson's direction, this cast meshes so well -- and is so clearly enjoying itself -- that no pronouncements are necessary.
Just watch Bowie, Goldpaugh and Rappaport in "Bluer Than You," trying to out do one another with accounts of how messed up their lives are. "My man calls me such terrible names," laments Rappaport. "Your man talks to you," counters Bowie, both fiercely proud and helplessly distraught that hers doesn't. Misery sure loves this kind of company! Kate Guenther has designed the postmodern nightclub that serves as the set; the polka-dot costumes are by Barbara Tucker Parker; and Carol Fishman has supplied the lighting. The near-ubiquitous Roy Barber is responsible for the musical direction, and John Ward was at the piano the night I caught the show. They all do a spiffy job.
At 10, middle age for a theater, Horizons no longer seems compelled to proclaim its identity quite so vociferously. Putting the crusading spirit on hold, it settles for copious musical pleasures and about as many good-natured laughs as you can pack into two fleeting hours. Which is settling for a lot.
A . . . My Name Is Alice, conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd. Directed by Leslie B. Jacobson; musical direction, Roy Barber; scenery, Kate Guenther; costumes, Barbara Tucker Parker; lighting, Carol Fishman; accompanists, Ed Rejuney and John Ward. With Terri Allen, Sandra Bowie, Felicia Imre Colvin, Kathleen Goldpaugh, Barbara Rappaport. At Horizons Theatre through Nov. 1.