At $12 a ticket, "Way Wicked Women" is something of a bargain for people whose enjoyment of theater extends past the dazzle of big-budget productions and the embrace of plush reserved seating - people who like to go to the places where theater is born.
That would be places like the back room of Rust Belt Books, an improvised theater space tucked behind walls of well-organized used books at 202 Allen St., in the old Buffalo neighborhood with a reputation for embracing the new.
"Way Wicked Women" is presented as a series of sketches, held together by the notoriety of its characters, real and fictional, who have, historically, been given a bad rap, deserved or otherwise.
Don't expect a feminist rant, although the Brazen Faced Varlets, who are putting on the show, would no doubt be capable of delivering one. No, these stories are told with heart, with some anger and, mostly, with comic touches, both deft and broad.
The six-person ensemble, all female with the exception of ringmaster Mike Beiter, does an able job presenting what is essentially a work in progress. As artistic director Lara Haberberger points out, they started writing "Way Wicked Women" in August; weeks later, they are performing it before an audience. As fans of "Saturday Night Live's" sketch comedy know, doing things so quickly leads to hits, yes, but also a few misses. The trick is to make sure the good overwhelms the efforts that, let's say, need more work.
And the varlets succeed. Members of the support group for "Disney's Angry Bitches" - Wicked Stepmothers, Ursula the Sea Witch, Maleficent, the Queen of Hearts, Cruella de Vil - struggle with anger management, most a result of their evil plans being foiled by various princes most charming. At the end, they find a suitable target for their wrath in a most surprising place.
Jenny Gembka does a touching turn as Georgina Spelvin, who, decades ago, at age 37, became an unlikely porn star in "The Devil in Miss Jones," and went on to live a perfectly normal life, no apologies necessary.
We get glimpses of other Hollywood bad girls, but also walk in the shoes of a child, hit in the head with a rock thrown by a big white man, a little girl whose crime was to want to go to school. And of other little girls, striving to become Miss Ultimate Sparkle Supreme, pumped up with Pixie sticks, Mountain Dew and Red Bull and terrified of angering their mothers.
Lorena Bobbitt shows up, a couple of times, as does a Nazi known as "The Bitch of Buchenwald." Western gals like Calamity Jane and Belle Starr curse their way across the stage, and there's even an appearance by Tonya Harding.
And that's just the first act. We're also visited by suffragettes, Bonny Parker, Cleopatra, Wanda Barzee and Eva Braun, among others. You can see the problem.
The world is just too full of women who refused to stay in their place to fit them into one (long) show, and it's likely the producers of this piece are aware that some trimming is in order. Keep the Disney chicks, and the "Anything for My Man" contest. Don't try to reign in Kelly Beuth one bit, nor the other women in the well-directed cast - Theresa DiMuro-Wilber, Brittany Kucala, Diane McNamara and Kerry Alsheimer.
There's a lot of good material, and quite a history lesson, in "Way Wicked Women," more than enough to justify paying them a visit.