My all-time favorite Onion story is one from 2012 headlined "Female Friends Spend Raucous Night Validating the Living Shit Out of Each Other." I thought back to that article during Independent Women, the first production by fledgling company Social Sciences (it's headed by Ashley Hollingshead, who directs this show with a spirited, thoughtful touch). The title harks back to the 2000 Destiny's Child single, that soul-stirring proclamation of female wherewithal. But while that anthem plays a role—the show opens with an exuberant if overlong and somewhat patchy dance routine set to the song—the more satisfying and novel moments are those that comment on the relationships between women, rather than on all the individual "honeys who makin' money."
This is a devised show, which in non-theater terms means the performers, six 20-something women in boxy coveralls with rainbow-colored chemises underneath, are also the creators. They've stitched together their own words with a few song-and-dance routines, stories about their grandmothers and World War II-era oral histories (if Queen Bey is one of the show's fairy godmothers, Rosie the Riveter is the other). The approach leads to a cluttered, kitchen-sink quality—the barrage of statistics overwhelms more than it illuminates—as well as some missed opportunities for humor.
But the most trenchant moments are those that eschew larger debates—whether women can have it all or why society continues to perceive working mothers with disdain—to expose something raw or funny about the performers and their relationships with one another. Sometimes it's literally revealing: Zoe Rudman, with impressive warmth and panache, comes onstage wearing a half-dozen bras and divulges a personal fact with each clasp she undoes. Then there's the show's arguable highlight, a riff on Chicago's "Cell Block Tango." Retitled "Cellulite Tango," each woman identifies a physical insecurity, resulting in a refrain nearly as catchy as the original's: "Sweat! Ribs! Pooch! Backne! Jewish nose! Small tits!"
Afterwards, as they pair off and exchange praise, it feels neither forced nor perfunctory. They're just some ladies validating the living shit out of each other. And deservedly so.
SEE IT: Independent Women is at Action/Adventure Theatre, 1050 SE Clinton St., socialsciencesproductions.com. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays through March 22 and Monday, March 17. $12-$15; Thursdays "pay what you can."