Fort Fringe: The Shop

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 14, 9:15 p.m.
Thursday, July 18, 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 21, 12 p.m.
Thursday, July 25, 5:45 p.m.

They Say: “Smart enough. Strong enough. Savvy enough. Got what it takes? Commitment. Timing. And the perfect tree pose.”

Rachel K’s Take:
How to Have It All: The Musical begins with an announcement from an actress representing the theater company. She apologizes for the heat in the theater, that the audience will have to turn off cell phones, and for the lack of intermission, among other regrets. One of the other performers (Aniko Olah), planted in the audience (and acting like an audience surrogate), goes off on the woman. “Why are you always apologizing?” Then they burst into song.

It’s a deft and funny look at the way women sometimes struggle to balance authority with deference, and says quite a bit about the roadblocks to “having it all.” Unfortunately, the show quickly loses that thoughtfulness—-and is left with something far more garish and confusing.

The plot of this original musical from Fully Charged Productions is relatively straightforward. A recently separated mother named Ann (Alanna Mensing) wants to have it all—-the job, the kids, and the husband (Dane C. Petersen). She calls Barbara Companies Inc. to help her get her life in order. Meanwhile, the life counselor assigned to help her, Manny (Jose Pineda), is struggling with coming out of the closet and standing up to his boss in his own quest to, yes, have it all.

Inspired by The Atlantic essay “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” this musical was originally conceived as a variety show. Perhaps it should have stayed that way, because it fluctuates wildly in tone. There’s a hyper-realist scene in which Ann tries to get out of the house as her kids beg her to stay. It is directly followed by a zany take on boot camp, in which Ann’s co-grunts include Petersen in a full gown and the other participant in a bikini. Why? I’m still not quite sure.

One step toward women “having it all” might be complex depictions of them on the stage. All of the show’s villains, from careerist Barbara (Susan S. Porter) to Manny’s homophobic mother (Petersen in another role) to a sexually aggressive colleague named Diva (Damia Torhagen), are women, and none is given the opportunity to evolve over the course of the show.

Diva is particularly perplexing. She sings a come-hither song, garters and all, about having it all. In her case, that means sleeping with Manny. He tells her that she can’t have it all, because he’s gay. I wasn’t aware that having sex with your gay co-worker was what The Atlantic‘s Anne-Marie Slaughter meant. Torhagen sells the role as much as she can, but she isn’t given much to work with.

The original songs varied in quality. It was often difficult to hear the performers’ voices above the music. In a few numbers (particularly a Ke$ha-esque rap about the second shift) I wondered if the singing and accompaniment were supposed to be discordant.

How to Have It All has a lot of funny one-liners, and Jose Pineda and Susan S. Porter, in particular, give some standout performances. As a cohesive play though, How to Have It All just doesn’t, well, have it all.

See it if: You like musicals with tonal shifts and zingers.
Skip it if: You’re actually looking to learn how to have it all.