'The Bechdel Show' playfully explores how we fail the test

Anna Sibenaller

Anna Sibenaller

At the opening of The Bechdel Show, the Slap Happy Studios troupe explain the Bechdel Test. Named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who popularized it, the test asks whether a work of fiction has two named female characters who have a conversation together about something other than a man. About a third of current Hollywood movies fail, according to a count by Fusion.

The Bechdel Show, a brisk and eclectic sketch comedy evening, takes the test as table ante not just for movies, but for life in general—and not just for gender, but for sexual orientation. Creators Erin Cargill, Erika Bloomdahl, and Beth Ann Powers direct a series of bits calling out the assumptions and indignities foisted upon women and members of queer communities.

The Slap Happy performers enact a series of scenarios that will resonate with anyone who’s ever borne the brunt of a double standard, and will open the eyes of those who haven’t. The Bechdel Show uses amiable humor to make an important point: Privilege is pervasive, and your own conscience isn’t the final arbiter of whether you’re being hurtful or exclusionary.

The show largely doesn’t bother targeting unambiguous misogynists. Instead, it turns its sights on people like a cis hetero white guy who knows all about Bechdel’s Fun Home, and is ready to mansplain intersectional feminism. In a video sketch, a hippie dude demonstrates what a sensitive singer-songwriter he is... and then reveals that he feels entitled to a warm reception from any woman he deigns to serenade.

Many of the sketches dramatize the frustration of characters, like two women who can’t escape the assumption that they’re “gal pals” even when people know they’re lesbians in a committed relationship (“I wish I could marry my BFF!”). A sketch that inspires both laughs and appreciative applause involves a glib couple who are expecting a baby. They visit a balloon shop trying to plan a gender-reveal celebration, but the clerk, who is trans, has other plans for their party.

While the young performers aren’t as seasoned as some of their peers on the local scene, they keep the pace up and the energy high. So if there’s a sketch that you’re not giggling at, you just have to wait a minute or two and the scene will shift. There’s a nice balance of dialogue-focused bits and interludes of physical comedy like the climactic session of “broga,” featuring two clumsy guys who think a yoga class is a great place to pick up chicks.

All of the show’s cast members are white, a fact they make repeated reference to, demonstrating that they understand the need for themselves to have the kind of self-awareness and humility they ask of others. “I don’t like to talk about race. It divides us,” says one character in a sketch that ends, pointedly, with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

The Bechdel Show
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
612-825-8949; through July 23