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A night of laughs with the girls

By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Staff Writer
Published October 1, 2003

As the Venus Attacks! seminar begins, its leader, Venus the Love Goddess, admits that self-help seminars are bull. "My bull is better," she boasts.

It's certainly funnier, or at least more intentionally funny, than the average self-help seminar. If you've ever sat through a couple of hours of motivations, affirmations, visualizations and all-purpose natter about changing your life with a product that just happens to be for sale after the seminar, Venus Attacks! could be the antidote.

The spoof is performed by the playwrights, Debbie Kasper and Sheila Kay. Both women have extensive backgrounds in standup comedy, and Kasper has been a writer for Roseanne and The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

The two play all the parts in Venus Attacks!, from pink-coated, perky Marge and Barb, who ask for questions from the audience before the show, to the cast of Love Goddesses who share their wisdom.

Kasper and Kay deploy broad (in several senses) stereotypes, bawdy language and a lot of cheesy wigs in their pursuit of belly laughs. Call it postmargarita feminism.

Don't sit in the front row if you're shy. Audience members got coaxed onstage to play an inattentive husband or do a flirtation dance that would send any potential mate running for the hills.

But most of the show belongs to the guest goddesses. First up is "supreme self-esteem surgeon" Dr. Simpatico (Kasper), a New Age nitwit in an outfit that looks like what might have been sold at Kmart in ancient Egypt.

She explains that low self-esteem is what sets us apart from the animals. "You would never see an elephant at the zoo saying, "Excuse me, does my a- look fat?' "

Next is Carmella Gambino (Kay), a gum-smacking toughie in a leopard-skin mini. Carmella's road to enlightenment is "awakening your inner b--," and she's quick to demonstrate. "No one is perfect. Okay, I see one person. You there. You're young, you're thin, you're beautiful. Come on, stand up." She does. She is. "We all hate you," Carmella says cheerfully.

In case you still need one after all that empowerment, Zelda Bing (Kasper) offers advice on finding and keeping a man. Remember Vicki Lawrence's mean, frumpy Mama character on Mama's Family? Zelda looks like her meaner, frumpier sister. She counsels, "If you lower your standards, there's men everywhere."

The funniest bit in the show is the last. Dr. Candy Box (Kay), who wheels onstage in a walker and a muumuu, is a takeoff on Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Sue Johanson of the Sunday Night Sex Show: a randy 98-year-old with such a mouth on her. Not much in her uproarious advice is quotable in a family newspaper, except "Sex is like riding a bicycle. But I can't remember why."

With its combination of looseness and manic energy and its risky reliance on audience participation, Venus Attacks! isn't great theater. It's more like spending an evening with a couple of your funniest friends. But if that's not self-help, I don't know what is.


Venus Attacks! through Oct. 12 at Shimberg Playhouse at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $15.50. 813 229-7827, toll-free 1-800-955-1045 or

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