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Girlhood remembered
Variety show reveals the light side of everyone's "inner dork"
"They say laughter is medicine for a reason, I really believe it is. Especially when you have a roomful of women, it's so safe, it's almost like an embrace, like arms around everybody. They all laugh knowingly at themselves."
-Barbara Gehring

By Norma Smith Olson

You are invited to a girlhood reunion. "Girls Only-The Secret Comedy of Women," a variety show creation of Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein, opens January 14 at Hennepin Stages in Minneapolis. You can expect song and dance, sketch comedy, improv, video, puppetry and plenty of audience interaction.

"It's very much celebrating the silliness, the fun of being a girl," Gehring said. "[All women] can celebrate because everyone has been a girl. It's very universal made personal."

Gehring and Klein's goal is to keep it light as they cover a broad range of topics from puberty and the "5th Grade Talk" to teenage diaries to a panty-hose ballet to breastfeeding to maxi pads to menopause. "We don't go to the dark side. This is not the 'Vagina Monologues,'" Gehring said.

"At the same time," Klein said, "it's incredibly truthful and honest. It's so true, it happened to everybody."

The show has developed and evolved since 2004, when the two best friends and writing partners, now in their early 40s, discovered that they had each saved their girlhood diaries. They got together one day and read them to each other. "We were laughing to tears, they were so rich with comedy," Klein said.

While "Girls Only" includes some of those vulnerable diary entries, Gehring and Klein have discovered that their show is really not about themselves. "It's about all of those women in the audience and their experiences. They watch us and listen and then they start connecting to their own girlhood," Gehring said.

"We had a gal once who said 'you know, even if your childhood wasn't that great, you walk out of there thinking it was.' It was like an emotional do-over for her." Klein said.

As they near the 1,000th performance of "Girls Only," the two have learned a lot about what they call the "secret comedy" of women. "One of the vague epiphanies I had early on," Klein said, "is that everyone thought they were a dork. No one thinks that they were the popular girl." She called this a double whammy. Not only are women in the audience connecting with their inner girlhood, "everyone is connecting with their inner dork as well."

Gehring picked up on this thread of universality and women. "I think that underneath, we're all the same. We truly are. Underneath all of everything, we were all these little girls who grew up a certain way."

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The two have also learned a lot about women through laughter. Klein thinks there's something extraordinary about the way women can connect. "[As women] we're looking sort of laterally through life, like, who's my partner in life? Whose hand can I grab a hold of? I think women are always looking out to grab someone's hand and be a new friend. I think that's a more vulnerable position than looking up and down, seeing who's above me and who's below me. [Women] look around to see who's with me. When you laugh together it's bonding. When you're laughing together, the whole room is with you."

By sharing the vulnerabilities from the various stages of a woman's life in a comedic way, Gehring and Klein engage the audience to participate. "We kind of open our arms and embrace them and say 'welcome to our party, you're a part of this,'" Gehring said.

And, Klein continued, "When Barbara and I are up there, laughing at ourselves at 110 percent, it gives the audience members permission to laugh at themselves at least 50 percent."

What: Girls Only-The Secret 
Comedy of Women
When: January 14 - April 3, 2010
Where: Hennepin Stages, 
824 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $29.50

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