If you believed some things were better left to the genius of Margaret Atwood, you’d be wrong. If you, like me, were also jonesing for fiercer female commentary the week after the Women’s March in NYC, a group of female comedians from Brooklyn came to deliver. They graced us with something currently missing from our lives: more Handmaid’s Tale, but set in Brooklyn amidst the Twitter-wielding, flat white-brewing and “woke”-pursuing. In this musical parody’s — yes, it’s also a musical — own words, “if fucking SpongeBob can be a musical, why not Handmaid’s?”
Asking myself the same question, I battled through the bitter cold this past Thursday to squeeze into the half-standing and half-sitting mass of humans in the basement of Union Hall, Brooklyn. The stage in front of us was small, the production quality almost nonexistent, and there was not even a feeble attempt at maintaining the fourth wall. It was probably the most fun I’ve had on a Thursday night. Offred is played by Marcia Belsky, a stand-up comedian from Brooklyn who you might know from her writing at Reductress or her radical feminist band Free the Mind. Belsky co-wrote the play with Melissa Stokoski, also a comedian and writer from Brooklyn, who hosts the shows Bitches’ Brew and Like Me Comedy. Offred moves to New York City in an obvious but tongue-in-cheek mimicry of every person ever moving to NYC to pursue a dream. So, all of us. In this case, her lofty dream is of becoming a Brooklyn barista, a notion unheard of in Offred’s home town of somewhere in Ohio. The moving sequence is rife with a ballad about love for NYC and its dreamers. Subsequently, Offred has a chance encounter with a man who saves her hat — the man is called “Extremely Hot Nick" and is played by Drew Anderson.
Offred finds her dream job of being a barista, where she is not paid but still deliriously happy. She soon runs into Serena Joy (Greta Titelman) who is an ode to the progressive and feminist wives of Park Slope — ones who consider showing up to the Women’s March enough of a contribution to society. Serena Joy declares herself to be an empath, a “boss bitch” despite her husband being a very powerful man, and warns Offred about the perils of being a feminist: “You could get sent to Astoria.” Her husband, Commander Fred (Tim Platt), spends most his time touting his reasons for why men are the real victims in the world, arguing with women on the internet, and posting on Reddit. So, you know, a real Ivy League-bred Brooklyn charmer.
The next scene cuts to Fred shooting the shit with his fellow man friends, who are all complaining about women taking the country to an ugly place. “What’s so hard about being a woman? You don’t have to pay for drinks or do anything,” is the whine from Jax (Karolena Theresa), a random crony of Fred’s. Fred convinces his fellow men that all the women in the country are trying to get men to hate their dicks: “They never say it, but I know they’re thinking it!” They all declare that women should be back at home because the worst thing humanity ever did was letting women out in the sun. Fred then launches into a radicalizing song about how he loves his dick, and that “this land is our land and it’s for all of our dicks.” The song works, and men across the country are convinced that women have always wanted them to hate their dicks. How dare they.
This is where we officially meet our narrator — Ofglen, but she's known in this play as Rory Gilmore. Ofglen/Rory Gilmore is played by Melissa Stokoski, who holds an uncanny resemblance to the long-beloved star of Gilmore Girls, Alexis Bledel. It’s a cheeky nod to how jarring it was for many to see Rory as the resistance organizing Ofglen in the Hulu adaptation of Handmaid’s Tale. It also provides fodder for a running joke: throughout the entire musical, people to pause their dystopian-era woes to fangirl over Rory Gilmore. She gazes out at the audience and declares softly that “human civilization depends upon whether men are willing to admit they have a problem with their individual dicks.” That’s a little too close to home, Rory.
Chaos ensues. Fred’s message has spread to the entire country and so women are being rounded up. It begins with the deletion of Offred’s Facebook — Offred flippantly declares that she wasn’t a social media person anyway. Another woman wails how she received a dick pick but is unable to forward it to all her friends. The collection of group texts within each woman's inbox are disappearing. Phones are dying but not charging anymore. Another screams about the loss of her Sephora points. Women also spontaneously lose the ability to read and get an alert for brunch reservations being cancelled. It all culminates with a Super Like match with commanders on Tinder, and a note that the match is mandatory.
I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, since they’ve added a second show for February 10th due to popular demand. Fair warning, the remainder of the first act and the second act only get nuttier. Our Handmaids are garbed in red Uniqlo jumpsuits rather than robes. Serena Joy belts out a song about being an independent woman, but she's unable to feel bad for these Handmaids because they get to live in Park Slope brownstones now. Betsy DeVos (Eudora Peterson) is introduced as the leader of the Handmaid training center. She steals the entire musical while crooning, “I’m the elegant, smiling, discrimination denying Betsy DeVos.” The mantras she demands Handmaids learn and repeat after her include, “Motown music should be illegal. I love Rob Schneider. I love Tim Allen. I hate the Obamas.” The cast then passes to the audience DeVos' family tree, as she says, “I may seem like I’m human, but my parents are both lizards.” You guessed it, there’s two lizards above her on the tree.
The rebellion emerges from a Brooklyn underground jam session, where everyone is a self-proclaimed super fan of “Phish the Band.” They're all men, and they only surface to help the women when the lead singer dies. There’s also an apology statement from Fred that brilliantly nods to the culture of “me me me” empty apologies we’ve come to expect of men in media. After the tables are turned, men are filtered back very slowly into society. Because, as Rory puts it, “What’s the rush?”
If the Handmaid’s Tale was too difficult and close to home for you to watch, and if you’ve been waiting for something cathartic, then you might want to try scoring tickets on the day of the show to see a group of mostly-women Brooklyn comedians adapt your favorite show for NYC millennials with the Handmaid's Tale: The Musical.
Top image: The Handmaid's Tale: The Musical
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Originally from Pakistan, you can now find Maham Hasan snacking on cheetos in the train and treating herself to disgustingly expensive coffee in the Village. Sometimes she writes things. Follow her on Twitter @mahamabahama.