The passages beneath the Upright Citizens' Brigade Theatre are bathed in a sallow, puke-green light, casting an eerie glow across Julie Klausner's face. In front of her, one musty hallway leads toward a fast food joint across the street, and another to a small hangout room filled with the kind of assorted, run-down crap you couldn't give away on the streets. "Tell me the theater in Charleston is better than this," she laughs. "Please."
The whip-smart redhead is not entirely serious, of course, because she and comedy partner Sue Galloway are sitting pretty at the UCBT with an extended run of Free to be Friends, the duo's subversive, feminist, '70s children's show send-up. Yes, that's right. Subversive. Feminist. '70s. Children's show. Send-up.
Before the two took to the brown and orange-festooned stage earlier in the evening, folksy femi-tunes filled the air. Lyrics like "A woman who's indifferent to men, she's my friend, she's a lesssssbiaaaaan" and "There's no penis in between us" set a ripe mood for the fantastically fucked-up feminist agenda the two women not-so-subtly promote on their off-kilter "kids' show."
Based on a real-life New York children's show from Klausner's disco-era youth, Free to be Friends finds dopey, guitar-slinging Betty (Galloway) and militant, Martha-in-polyester Joan (Klausner) making horrific craft projects, singing goofy songs (like one about pancakes that devolves into a rant against Vietnam), trading lesbian innuendo, and generally harassing their Jewish felt owl puppet hanger-on, Shylock, on their Nebraska Public Television show.
Presented in variety show format, the duo moves from skit to skit on their "Enchanted Patio," mixing in a bit of baking ("self-esteem cookies") and crafts (a collage "sponsored by Mod Podge") with man-hating and woman-loving ("That vagina between your legs is no longer an albatross around your neck," offers Joan), culminating in a darkly surprising ending. "We're basically intolerant people preaching tolerance," explains Klausner.
The UCB Theatre was packed this evening, as it has been for most of the show's run, a testament to Klausner and Galloway's kinetic connection and sharp wit. And possibly the fact that the ladies strip down to some sexy '70s workout gear at one point in the show.
In truth, the concept of a '70s kids' show with a feminist agenda would be kinda funny even if your mother and sister took on the roles of Betty and Joan — but accomplished comedians Galloway and Klausner are absolutely dynamite together. Galloway's sly, under-the-radar non sequiturs as Betty are a perfect response to Klausner's over-the-top parading as Joan, and the results garnered the two not only their current extended run but also a well-earned red star and its accompanying recommendation by Time Out New York.
Both Klausner and Galloway have juicy comedy pedigrees with the UCB and various sketch outlets, with Galloway leading a secret life in a cover band called Scrapbook (handy for the deranged folk tunes she wrote for Free to be Friends) and Klausner doubling as an illustrator and oddball pet enthusiast (evident in her funny feline TV show, Cat News, and her published pet comics; not so evident in her treatment of the owl puppet). "Ultimately, Free to be Friends is a really great showcase for all of our abilities," explains Klausner.
After a second, Galloway suggests, "It's a romp." Klausner looks at her partner in mock surprise. "That's funny, because I was going to say 'wacktastic romp.'"