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Theater review: Girls Only 

What kind of forbidden dish will men encounter if they dare to attend Girls Only, currently playing at Stage Door Theater through August 1? Nothing particularly shocking or subversive, unless you've managed to elude women's lib, feminism, and The Comedy Channel for the past 30 years. Written by Winnepeg native Barbara Gehring and Colorado comedienne Linda Klein, its original performers, Girls Only isn't designed to remind women what heartless beasts men are (they know), or to inspire women to go out and wrest dominion from their male oppressors (they've done that).

The show, subtitled "The Secret Comedy of Women," is primarily concerned with reminding grown women of the joys and foibles of girlhood and womanhood, sort of what The View would be if it were transported to the bedroom of a teenaged girl conspiring after hours with her best friend in a sleepover. Girl talk shared confidentially with an audience of women.

Dressed unashamedly in bras and panties, the two actors, Bethel Caram and Diana Dresser, mock the poses of supermodels in glossy magazines -- posed for maximum sexual impact by men. How unnatural! Now if Gehring and Klein had proceeded to show us how women would have had those superbabes pose for maximum sexual impact, that could have been shocking, subversive, and edgy. But then I doubt that Denver Center Attractions and the Blumenthal PAC would have signed on as the co-producers who brought this show to Charlotte.

Really, unless you're a guy who tenses up watching The View, there's nothing in Girls Only that will threaten your universe -- although I must admit Girls Only is far less boring. Makes sense since the stupid chatter of some stupid women and the gawking celebrity factor have been excised. Caram and Dresser quickly bring us up to speed on their personal histories after their magazine show-and-ridicule, and then they immerse themselves in the true depths of girlish mystery, huddling back on the bed and reading snippets from their own teen diaries!

What men might learn, if they haven't known it before, is that women can make fun of women just as adroitly as they. The impulse takes an improvisatory tang as Caram and Dresser stride into the audience for the first time. Each of them gets a willing lady to give up her purse, and then the fun begins as the duo returns to the stage and begins rummaging through the contents.

After a silhouetted history of women, we take a U-turn back into adolescence and watch two instructors, with sunniness and pep on the very brink of cheerleading, telling us about the perils of puberty. Nostalgia for some audience members, authentic archeology for others. Some carefully selected black-and-white video, sprinkled between skits, has similar effects.

It gets really girly after intermission when, with all proper reverence, Caram and Dresser bring forth their hope chests. Several audience members get to pick one treasure out of a chest, and then, with tension and anticipation rising to unbearable heights, the girls tell us the real-life stories behind these objects! I'm still trembling from the excitement.

For true inspiration, nothing tops the little skit where Caram and Dresser are called upon to transform themselves into two old-biddie hostesses of a craftsy TV show. Maybe they hit the Shopping Channel too hard before the onset of menopause, but these grannies have a super-surplus of sanitary napkins, a Tampon bonanza of all shapes and sizes -- including the new Cavalia size. With a truly feminine regard for the planet, the crafsty biddies find the most unlikely ways to recycle these comically useful materials.

But this is not all. The Tampon segment is the first leg of a tetralogy that becomes the climax of Gehring and Klein's "Secret Comedy," moving on to bras and lingerie before arriving at its final frontier. Pantyhose.

Nope, Girls Only isn't hostile territory. It's remarkably inoffensive, and that's the only thing wrong with it.

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