Review: The Secretaries (About Face Theatre)

| May 19, 2016

Sadieh Rifai and Meghan Reardon in The Secretaries, About Face           

The Secretaries 

By The Five Lesbian Brothers
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru June 12  |  tix: $20-$35  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Stunning visuals, fantastic cast overcome inconsistencies


Kelli Simpkins, Meghan Reardon, Lauren Sivak, Erin Barlow and Sadieh Rifai in The Secretaries

About Face Theatre presents
The Secretaries

Review by Lauren Whalen 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: black comedy is very, very hard to do well. See also: satire. In some ways, The Secretaries is more successful in its attempts than most. Several bits are sharp and funny, the visuals are stunning with a sense of humor and all five actresses are fantastic. When The Secretaries is good, it is very, very good, and when it is bad, it is…not horrible, but definitely uncomfortable and prolonged. About Face Theatre’s Chicago premiere by writing team The Five Lesbian Brothers (Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron) is a decidedly mixed bag, entertaining but inconsistent.

Kelli Simpkins and Erin Barlow in The Secretaries, About Face TheatreAt times, The Secretaries seems an odd choice for About Face. Had I not known the company producing the work, I would have perhaps assumed Babes With Blades. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to expand one’s demographic. I just hope About Face’s usual crowd is ready, and question the timing and venue for the show, whose edgy material might be better suited for a late night crowd with a few drinks in them.

The Secretaries starts with a bang: flashing lights, a scantily-clad woman wielding an axe, and the titular secretaries reciting a rhyming credo. The play then segues to Patty Johnson (Erin Barlow), a naïve young thing straight out of secretarial school who’s just landed her dream job at Cooney Lumber Mill in Big Bone, Oregon. The other three secretaries quickly orient Patty to their high heel-sporting, Slim Fast-drinking ways, not to mention their lustful adoration of office manager Susan (Kelli Simpkins). But as circumstances get weirder – used tampons and celibacy pacts are involved – and Patty gets involved with lumberjack Buzz (Lauren Sivak), the secretaries get closer to their shared menstrual cycle and an even bloodier monthly ritual.

One-acts with no intermission are becoming de rigeur in modern theater, and like every American with an overpacked schedule, I have no problem with this. However, playwrights must proceed with caution: any one-act longer than 90 minutes (100 is pushing it) can lose its audience’s attention and focus, not to mention theater seats are often uncomfortable for more than an hour and a half at a stretch. The Secretaries could easily be cut down to 90 minutes, if the writers were more conscientious of setups that go nowhere (there are several) and a prologue with entirely too much exposition. When it’s been established from the beginning that the secretaries are murderers, and a murder doesn’t occur for a long while, there’s an issue.

Kelli Simpkins, Sadieh Rifai, Meghan Reardon, Lauren Sivak and Erin Barlow in The SecretariesLauren Sivak, Sadieh Rifai, Kelli Simpkins, Meghan Reardon and Erin Barlow in The Secretaries

Content length aside, there’s a lot to like about The Secretaries. Scenic designer William Boles has embraced the campy source material with a set that’s both scrappy and over-the-top, and lighting designer Rachel K. Levy follows suit with some truly fun cues. Director Bonnie Metzgar, with assistance from stage manager Helen Lattyak, keeps the action going like a dream. Though a few of the actresses look rather young to be playing experienced admins, the quartet of women display remarkable comic timing and sparking chemistry. Sivak is hilariously lecherous as lesbian secretary Dawn and sweetly dumb as Buzz, and Meghan Reardon has some great moments as Ashley, former Secretary of the Month who’s quickly coming unglued. Sadieh Rifai displays excellent lip-synching skills and her Peaches is the perfect kiss-up. Barlow is a lovely wide-eyed ingénue, and Simpkins’ dry yet charismatic Susan is a standout.

Though inconsistent, The Secretaries is a bloody good time. About Face’s latest makes for a fun night out with your most twisted friends (and we all have them). Grab a few drinks, tuck in and wait patiently through exposition and setup for some genuinely funny jokes and an even funnier cast.

Rating: ★★★

The Secretaries continues through June 12th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $35 (students & seniors: $20), and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission)

Meghan Reardon, Erin Barlow, Lauren Sivak and Sadieh Rifai in The Secretaries, About Face

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Kelli Simpkins (Susan), Erin Barlow (Patty), Meghan Reardon (Ashley), Sadieh Rifai (Peaches), Lauren Sivak (Dawn, Buzz), Mallory Nees, Bridget Schreiber, BrittneyLove Smith (understudies)

behind the scenes

Bonnie Metzgar (director), William Boles (set design), Rachel K. Levy (lighting design), Miles Polaski (sound design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Jenny Pinson (props design), Deven Casey Hartley (choreography), Steve Wisegarver (fight choreographer), Helen Colleen Lattyak (stage manager), Landon Welsh, Ian Olsen (co-technical directors), Kristof Janezic (lighting director), Coco Ree Lemery (scenic painter), Lucas Baisch (assistant director), Leni Morales, Matthew Ralph (assistant stage managers), Keira Fromm, Alex Weisman (casting directors), Max Taylor (master electrician), Emily Breyer (assistant set designer), Emma Deane (assistant lighting designer), Liz McLinn (assistant master electrician), Maddy Low (assistant costume design), Jackie Valdez (assistant scenic painter), Meghann Patten (wardrobe), Ben Falk (running crew), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Erin Barlow, Lauren Sivak, Sadieh Rifai and Meghan Reardon in The Secretaries, About FaceMeghan Reardon, Kelli Simpkins, Sadieh Rifai, Lauren Sivak and Erin Barlow in The Secretaries


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Category: 2016 Reviews, About Face Theatre, Lauren Whalen, Theater Wit

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