by Chris Davis
"A gentleman is any man who wouldn't hit a woman... with his hat on."— From The Club
Ann Marie Hall doesn't mince words.
"We're not just sexist, we're racist too," she says archly doting on her production of The Club, a slyly insightful if somewhat obscure musical review compiled by poet Eve Merriam with choreography by Courtney Oliver and Jackie Nichols. The title of the show refers literally to Gentlemen's clubs at the turn of the 20th-Century where certain privileged males of Anglo extraction could escape family obligations to gamble, drink, and conduct private business. More broadly it also alludes to the white male privilege exemplified in period songs like, "String of Pearls," "The Juice of the Grape," and "Following in Father's Footsteps."
Sights and sounds from The Club, 2012
This isn't Hall's first encounter with The Club, which showcases an ensemble of female performers impersonating men of means. In 1980 she played Freddy in the show's regional premier at Circuit Playhouse and revived the role a year later for Playhouse on the Square.
"It was very popular," she says.
Sally Stover, WKNO's Volunteer and Special Events coordinator, was also in that original Memphis production, and is returning to try her hand at the Club's top man, Algy.
"It really is a completely different show," Stover says. "Plus, I have much better facial hair this time." In a slightly more serious vein she also notes that feminism has changed in the last 30 years and that effects the company's approach to feminist satire.
The Club presents its songs and jests with very little in the way of commentary suggesting that they define foundational and pervasive attitudes relating to race, gender, and class.
"It's a musical diversion," Hall muses, referencing the show's optional subtitle. "I just love that: A musical diversion."
The Club is at TheatreWorks Jan. 6-29. A top drawer cast includes Ruth Johnson, Mary Buchignani, Sarah Hoch, Stacey McFadin, Misty L. O'Neal, and Mimmye Goode