Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Stenos with stilettos


Marilee Talkington, Leticia Duarte, and Eleanor Mason Reinholdt sing the praises of Slim-Fast in Crowded Fire's production The Secretaries. Photo: Timothy Faust
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If you're a Mad Men watcher, you know that human rights have begun trickling down into the secretarial pool. The tricky part of freedom is that, once tasted, no one wants to be a little bit free. In The Secretaries, created and originally performed by the Five Lesbian Brothers in 1994, the eponymous characters are willing automatons to their unseen boss at an Oregon lumber company. They survive on a diet of Slim-Fast shakes to maintain dictated dress sizes, and have harmonized their menstrual cycles. But obeisance does take its toll, and "that time of month" becomes a curse of a different color.

Belay that. The color remains the same – red – but the source is a monthly human sacrifice of a lumberjack. The deceased's heavy-duty plaid jackets become trophies that the secretaries proudly sport as fashion statements. There's a big office sign that proudly announces the numbers of days Cooney Lumber has gone without an accident, but it never quite makes it to 30.

Crowded Fire Theatre, now in residence at the Boxcar Playhouse tucked away on a South-of-Market alley, is reviving The Secretaries as part of its 13th season. It's a swaggering production in the tiny space, awash in manically fun performances, even if it does begin to sag before a Grand Guignol climax.

Providing a dramatic structure for the march into mayhem is the methodical indoctrination of the newest secretary into the coven. Ellisa Beth Stebbins is comically adept at playing this ultra-naive newcomer, as are the actresses around her. Khamara Pettus throws off scary-mean vibes as the jealous secretary replaced by the newcomer as the supervisor's pet. Leticia Duarte plays the gorgon supervisor with queen-bee authority. Eleanor Mason Reinholdt is the sweetly woebegone Peaches, whose job is always on the line because her secret snacking threatens to push her into a forbidden dress size. Best of all is Marilee Talkington, who plays the office lesbian with hilarious body language full of limbs doing their own butch things. Talkington also plays Buzz, a terribly shy lumberjack, and she can get a laugh just by understating a line like, "I have to get back to pulping."

Director Marissa Wolf moves the production quickly, with Nick A. Olivero's set using the office desks in various permutations to change the scenes. But the gradual stripping away of the office carpet to reveal Astroturf is not a joke I was able to decipher. Maybe it just makes it easier to hose down the blood.

The Secretaries will run at the Boxcar Theatre through Oct. 9. Tickets are $15-$25. More info at

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