THE SECRETARIES by The Five Lesbian Brothers – NYC Fringe Theater Review

by Kestryl Lowrey on September 3, 2010

in Theater-New York

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When I say that The Secretaries is a period piece, I’m not just describing the campy comedy’s early 90s fashion or repeated Slim•Fast references.    In the mill town of Big Bone, Oregon, it seems that Cooney Lumber can’t go more than 29 days without a bloody mishap.  Chronicling the initiation of new secretary Patty Johnson (Elizabeth Whitney) into the murderous office coven, The Secretaries satirizes sexism and women’s catty office practices with wit sharper than a chainsaw.

Written by The Five Lesbian Brothers, The Secretaries premiered at WOW Café Theatre in 1993.  Now, revived for the 2010 Fringe Festival, the production retains its early-90s aesthetic. It’s sobering how current the punch-lines still feel; clearly, norms of office homosociality and self-enforced sexism extend across the intervening decades.

Patty Johnson’s flashbacks of her first month at Cooney Lumber drive the plot as she becomes indoctrinated into the culture of Cooney’s working women.  She steals the coveted “Secretary of the Month” title from office brown-noser Ashley Elizabeth Fratangelo (Karen Stanion) while rebuffing advances from office lesbian Dawn Midnight (Virginia Baeta).  Patty loses her naiveté as she experiences varying degrees of sexual harassment from her boss, Susan Curtis (Jamie Heinlein), eventually cutting lose from her expectations and joining the murderous cult of Slim•Fast-dependent typists.  Girls just want to have fun… or chainsaws.

Patty’s transformation from bright-eyed newcomer to bloodthirsty secretary is deftly portrayed by Elizabeth Whitney.  Whitney brings a bubbly vivacity to her role, and her timing kept the audience rolling with laughter throughout the performance.  The rest of the cast give equally impressive performances; as Peaches Martin, Elizabeth Bell channels a quiet sort of desperation that rings true for far too many office dwellers.  Director Mark Finley shifts registers throughout the play, bringing an over-the-top campy thriller style to some scenes while playing up the quirky office comedy over others.

The Secretaries examines group dynamics and femininity with hilarious results.  Get your tickets soon—you’ve only got a few chances left to meet the Cooney coven!

kestryl.lowrey @

remaining performances at time of publication:
September 13, 15, 22, 23 (curtain times vary)
for more information, visit

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