COWGIRLS, Northlight Theatre, at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. Northlight's past success with such country-flavored musicals as Always...Patsy Cline and Smoke on the Mountain makes the company's choice of this 1994 comedy understandable. But despite director Gary Griffin's solidly professional production, Cowgirls' mediocre music and dumbed-down script demean the country culture and female solidarity the play purports to celebrate. Playwright Betsy Howie and songwriter Mary Murfitt's substandard cross between Nunsense and Pump Boys and Dinettes focuses on an all-women classical chamber trio--a pregnant pianist, a lesbian bassist, and a sexually repressed violinist secretly yearning to fiddle around. Mistakenly hired to headline the reopening of a country-western bar facing foreclosure, these uptight highbrows must be transformed into a star attraction by the owner, a frustrated singer named Jo.
Unashamedly and often ineptly manipulating the audience, right down to the clap-along climax, Cowgirls mocks its country and classical caricatures--then asks us to care about the characters' sentimental yearnings for stardom and happiness. The lame and obvious jokes about trailer parks, big hair, and frigid females' pent-up passion are the stuff of canceled sitcoms, while the "serious" moments are forced and dishonest. Nancy Voigts, Cynthia M. Cobb, and Dawn Bach, displaying vocal skill and instrumental competence as the trio, and charismatic Rhonda Coullet as Jo give the hackneyed material true grit, but they can't save this theatrical cow pie. --Albert Williams