Stage Door Review 2019

She The People: The Resistance Continues

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


by The Second City, directed by Carly Heffernan

The Second City, 51 Mercer Street, Toronto

May 4-September 15, 2019

Fight For Your Right”

She The People was The Second City’s first sketch show entirely created, designed and performed by women. It was such a success that now it’s back as She The People: The Resistance Continues with the same cast, all new material and it’s funnier than ever. As with the first She The People, the show is the “Toronto Edition” of The Second City Chicago’s show of the same name, but this time it lacks the anomalous US-themed sketches that made She The People feel less Canadian. In fact, She The People: The Resistance Continues is one of the most tightly written and well performed shows I’ve seen at The Second City bar none. 

After a series of lightning sketches that open the show, including a clever rethinking of what a “white noise” machine would do, the first two longer sketches set the tone for all all that follow. The first of these is about two young single lesbians (Tricia Black and Kirsten Rasmussen) who have been set up on a first date by a mutual friend. In addition to the awkward humour that surrounds any blind date, every attempt either makes to find a shared interest fails and it turns out that the two have absolutely nothing in common. It’s bold to start off a feminist show with lesbian sketch rather than the women-versus-men attack one might expect. In fact, this sketch is doubly bold because it depicts two lesbians, already a subset of all women, and shows that they have nothing else in common. 

People may not realize it at the time, but this is one of the more subtly radical points a women’s sketch can make. When women in general, and gay people in particular, are demonized, they, like all minority group are categorized as all being alike. Gently funny as this sketch is, it demonstrates in the simplest way that all people are individuals first.

The next sketch builds on this in that it surprisingly doesn’t let the lesbian theme drop. Here two mothers (Ashley Comeau and Karen Parker) are consulting a doctor (Paloma Nuñez) about their new baby. To the doctor’s dismay, the two mothers insist that they do not want their child vaccinated. At this point the doctor tells the mothers she need to call in a “surrogate” (Ann Pornel), meaning, as we discover, a surrogate client to whom she can say things that she can’t say to the two mothers. The mothers come out with one cliché after another: Why give shots for diseases that don’t exist? I’ve done my research (on Google). I don’t want my child to get autism. You’re in the pocket of Big Pharma. After each of these statements, the doctor chews out the surrogate giving the actual facts that refute their claims while still being very funny. In the end she chides the mothers directly for their anti-vaxer stance that puts not only their baby at risk but all people who will come in contact with it. Nuñez’s delivery of this last fact is not a joke.

The sketch is remarkable again because it does not pit women against men but women against women. You might expect in a feminist show that the lesbians moms would automatically be viewed as right, but here they are emphatically proved wrong. Also remarkable is that the sketch is not really on a “women’s only” topic but one that involves everybody living in a society. The underlying point the sketch makes is that assuming a feminist show will only deal with “feminist” issues is prejudicial. The sketch speaks against the categorization of women and demonstrates that no topic is off limits for women.

Following this strong start the show moves into what some might think is more typically women’s territory. The six cast members gather as women celebrating a birthday. The problem is that since they are all on various diets, no one whats to treat herself by having any cake. Pornel, who would not deny she is the heftiest woman in the cast, has the most humorous debate with herself about how she can justify having a piece of cake that she desires so much. The other women may say “no one is judging us”, but, in fact that is exactly the reason no one wants to give into temptation in front of the others. What seems like a simple set-up thus turns into a knowing view of of women exerting group pressure on each other.

Hard upon this comes the most radical sketch of the entire show and one that is breath-taking in its combination of simplicity and boldness. Three cheerleaders are rehearsing their cheers but they all uncritically voice traditionally male views of women: “No” means “Yes”, dressing provocatively means you’re asking for it, sexual assault is the woman’s fault for leading the man on, etc. Each time the male coach (Black), comes out to berate the cheerleaders for cheers that are both inappropriate for a game and demeaning to themselves. 

To have woman mindlessly promote the views of misogynist men only makes it clear how harmful these views are. Then to have a woman playing a man criticize the women for saying such things completes the role reversal in male-female debates and leaves your head spinning. This one sketch by taking this daring satiric approach does more to make the problems of consent and blaming the victim clear than the last several full-length plays I’ve seen on those topics.

For all its innovation the show does not escape a straightforward calling out of old white men that one might have expected. In one sketch three male Hollywood movie moguls (Black, Parker and Comeau with moustaches), are interviewed by three female reporters (Rasmussen, Nuñez and Pornel) about the inequities in the film industry of white men versus women and minorities in pay and representation. While the moguls are comically clueless, the main function of the sketch is to get the information out there of how bad the discrepancies really are. 

In another sketch we hear Barbra Streisand singing “Send In the Clowns” while the cast sways about holding up the faces of the US President, the Canadian Prime Minister, the Ontario Premier and three other white men in government. If the women of The Second City really wanted to trot of the white clowns of this world, they would have to include British Prime Minister Theresa May. Even though she is female, she is still a populist guiding her country to destruction. In the spirit of demonstrating equality, including May would show that women in power and be just as poor at governing as men in power. 

Not all the material is new but the repeats are much more pointed this time round. A woman in a dinosaur costume (Parker) and pearls visits a party again, this time to protest against the idea that she is wearing clothing inappropriate to her age. The simple message is “I don’t dress for you!”

We have another edition of the game show “You Oughta Know” with host Rasmussen. Though the questions are different the sketch brilliantly asks yet again while people know more about popular culture than about the people behind the issues changing the world around them. This new She The People also introduces a new game show “Fight For Your Right” (as per The Beastie Boys) which leads to an even more surprising conclusion. 

Then there is a reprise of the sketch where the full cast emphasize the disparity between how women can act and how they think. Last year the sketch was set at a restaurant. This year it’s at Chippendales and the women celebrate when each stripper performs but then settle into articulate discussions of world news. This time the point is clearer. Intelligent men can indulge in mindless fun. Why should this be thought improper for intelligent women?

In this edition of She The People it is a pleasure to see the cast stage sketches that depend on the dramatic acting abilities of the performers rather than on punchlines or outrageous situations. One, shown in two parts, deals with a dispute between a stressed-out mother (Parker) and her ungrateful child (Nuñez). The situation is funny in that the mother tries to justify giving her child a poorly chosen last-minute birthday present, but Parker and Nuñez, despite all the shouting reveal an inner unhappiness in the mother and the child that is far more serious than funny.

In another sketch, a sympathetic schoolteacher (Nuñez) notices that a bright pupil (Rasmussen) is unusually well informed about families of drugs. At first the student’s nonstop questioning of her teacher about why she has broken up with her boyfriend is amusing. Eventually, however, we notice that the student is actually trying to discover if her teacher is as lonely and depressed as she is. Again the conclusion is not funny but this sketch, like the previous one, not only shows the range in acting ability among the company but also underscores the fact that much of what the women satirize elsewhere in the show has serious real world consequences. 

She The People: The Resistance Continues may conclude with the optimistic notion that “the future is female, but it has also shown that we certainly are not there yet. This second She The People is a case where greater boldness and seeking a more complex response from the audience pays off in a show that feels richer in how it expands the breadth and depth of feminist humour. This is the kind of sketch comedy show that will leave you both laughing and thinking.

Christopher Hoile

Note: This review is a Stage Door exclusive.

Photos: (from top) Karen Parker, Tricia Black, Kirsten Rasmussen, Ann Pornel, Paloma Nuñez and Ashley Comeau; Ann Pornel, Ashley Comeau and Kirsten Rasmussen as cheerleaders; Tricia Black, Karen Parker and Ashley Comeau as film moguls; Paloma Nuñez and Karen Parker as daughter and mother. © 2019 Samantha Hurley.

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