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Show of Hands: ‘Handmaid’s Tale: the musical’ at the Bell House

Blessed be the fruit: Comedians Melissa Stokoski and Marcia Belsky created and perform in musical parody version of the bleak television series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” at the Bell House on March 8.
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This show is ’maid in Brooklyn!

A pair of Brooklyn comedians have put a peppy musical spin on the dystopian television series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and moved its story to the hip Borough of Kings. The Hulu series, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel about a world where the few fertile women are forced to become sexual servants, often features emotionally devastating rape scenes, but “Handmaid’s Tale: The Musical,” playing at the Bell House on March 8, drops them in favor of laughs and dance numbers, said one of its creators.

“We lighten up a lot of those things. Part of the reason we wanted to do this is watching the show is so hard, through humor and satire it makes it less of a taxing experience for women to watch,” said Marcia Belsky, who lives in Bushwick and co-wrote the parody with Greenpoint comedian Melissa Stokoski. “We wanted to make it a little less rapey for our purposes.”

The bleak nature of the show makes it especially funny that it would be adapted into a musical, just like recent Broadway shows “Groundhog Day: the Musical” and “Spongebob Squarepants: the Musical,” said the writers.

“We were watching ‘The Handmaid’s Tale” together and joking about how everything becomes a musical, and how it would be funny if ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ did because it’s so dark,” said Belsky.

Belsky and Stokoski re-imagined the story’s main character, a handmaiden named Offred, as a 20-something millennial who loses her job as a barista, and they traded the restrictions imposed by its theocratic army, such as women being forbidden to read or move about freely, for more lighthearted modern-day travesties, said Belsky.

“Offred starts out as sort of typical musical theater heroine, naive and starry-eyed, excited to move to New York,” she said. “We sort of rewrite, for our own parody purpose, what a coup of this nature would look like: our social media taken away, my Sephora points went to zero — what would it look like for us?”

And what better place to set a dystopian society than hipster Brooklyn, she asked herself.

“We basically looked at shows like ‘Girls’ — pretty much every millennial female story takes place in Brooklyn, so why not ‘The Handmaid’s Tale?’ ” said Belsky.

The musical also mashes up the characters from the series with real world figures and parodies of other television shows. Autocratic figure Aunt Lydia, for instance, who trains the handmaids to become submissive servants, is reinvented as Aunt Betsy Devos, named for Trump’s Secretary of Education. Another character is named Rory Gilmore, after the lead character from “The Gilmore Girls,” said Belsky.

“It’s really hard to disassociate her from that character that we loved in middle school,” she said.

Both Belsky and Stokoski see the show as an opportunity to comment on serious topics through a comedic lens, such the men’s rights movement. In the show, the coup is led by “Commander Fred, a sexually repressed elite East Coast man,” who convinces his fellow men’s rights activists that feminists are conspiring to make them hate their own penises. Fred strikes by means of a song titled “I Love My Dick,” said Belsky.

“We try to not make anything too on the nose,” she said.

“Handmaid’s Tale: The Musical” at the Bell House (149 Seventh St. between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, www.thebellhouseny.com). March 8 at 8 pm. $15 ($10 in advance).

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Posted 12:00 am, February 20, 2018
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