There has never before been a musical revue like 6 Women With Brain Death. God willing, there will never be another.
Only a few facts about this show can be stated with any certainty. It's playing at the 45th Street Theatre as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The score was written by Mark Houston (who died in 1995), and the book is by Cheryl Bengee, Christy Brandt, Rosanna E. Coppedge, Valerie Fagan, Ross Freese, Sandee Johnson, and Peggy Pharr Wilson. This production is directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and has musical direction by Kim Steiner. It features a cast of supremely talented and varied female actor-singers in Cheryl Alexander, Amorika Amoroso, Valerie Fagan, Joy Franz, Leisa Mather, and Pearl Sun. Its running time is roughly 70 minutes.
Beyond that, who the heck knows? Part of a reviewer's responsibility is to help give the reader an idea of whether the show is right for him or her, but with no show could that charge be harder to keep. I can't honestly say this show is right for anyone, nor can I say it's wrong for anyone. Nor can I say with any concrete assurance even what it is. It's sketch comedy so schizophrenic it should wear five straitjackets. It's The Threepenny Opera having its period. It's Jacques Brel is Dead and In Terrible Shape and Living Underground. It's the theatrical equivalent of genetic mutation. It's brilliant. It's bewildering. It's ghastly. It's glorious. It's a floor wax. And a dessert topping.
A description of anything that happens - assuming anything does happen, which is somewhat in doubt - would be of no earthly use to anyone with a fully functioning brain. The show is best experienced in writing as it is in the theater, as a series of disconnected images: A woman singing a duet with a cherished soap star about the benefits (or perils) of flying Lufthansa; a pastoral forest scene interrupted by a machine gun-toting deer named Rambi; a high school reunion held somewhere between Fifth Avenue and the Fifth Circle of Hell; a blonde's head singing a country spiritual while on a silver tray; a Barbie and Ken wedding complete with plastic copulation; and a convention of literal tinfoil hat wearers proclaiming God to be an alien.
Yes, this is all accurate. Yes, I realize this is all useless. It's entirely possible that this show is an elaborately detailed metaphor for the intricacies and uncertainties of contemporary female life that, not being a woman, I have no hope of understanding. It's entirely possible that the target audience is those with no remaining cognitive powers; the first song even states quite openly, "Welcome to the world of expiring minds." It's entirely possible that it's a sly, satirical comment on the gullibility of people who believe tabloid headlines, even for a fraction of a second. And it's entirely possible it's all a perverse, dated joke.
My choice is E, "All of the above." But whatever 6 Women With Brain Death is, whatever its reason for being in NYMF or even being at all, it's terrifically cast, expertly performed, and outrageously audacious from beginning to end. And, perhaps most importantly, it's an experience you will never forget.
No matter how hard you try.
New York Musical Theatre Festival