Yeast infections may be out of the medicine closet, but they can still make an audience squirm. And that's just what the comedy team Nude Coffee is after.
"What's the problem here?" asks Susan Mele, playing an impersonal and all-knowing doctor in a skit about a trip to the gynecologist.
"Well, I don't know," answers Kate Hill, the patient. She's leaning back as if locked into stirrups, a big white sheet covering her legs as she straddles the air.
"I think I have some sort of infection."
"Is it lumpy like cottage cheese?" asks an impatient Mele.
"Yes," Hill answers. The audience groans. A few guys in the front row slap one another on the shoulder; women nod.
"Is it smelly?"
"Oh yeah, really, really smelly." More groans.
Suddenly white gooey matter shoots from under the sheet, and the crowd screams.
Hill and Mele, together with Claire Kaplan, are comediennes and performance artists who bill themselves as rude and crude. But Nude Coffee goes beyond shock value. Most women comediennes try to relate to women by focusing on men: how women are different from men, don't understand men, or don't like them. Nude Coffee digs deeper, attempting to describe what life is like for women regardless of their relationship to men.
"While we are making fun of women's issues, we're also explaining them," says Hill. "Sometimes you can be a little didactic when explaining things, but doing it through humor is a nice way of doing it."
Take the group's portrayal of menstruation.
With a loud wind whistling around them, the three women sway on stage, Hill and Mele representing the ovaries. Kaplan stands between them as the uterus. All three are beginning to feel the soothing effects of a pain killer.
"Wow, oh man, that was Ibuprofen," Kaplan says.
"No, no, no. That was a prescription," Mele giggles.
"No, it was Pamprin," says a heavy-lidded Hill.
"Who cares, I feel great, I love it."
"Hey you guys, I'm sorry I was such a bitch earlier," apologizes Hill.
"That's OK honey, we love you," the others chime.
"I love you guys, too," Hill says, "I really do."
Not all the skits are as lighthearted. In "Smelly Penis" the group parodies the marketing of female hygiene products. And in "Word Combat" Hill and Kaplan spar in a war of derogatory terms for male and female genitalia. Guess who wins.
"Almost everything we have to say came from a point of frustration or anger. But what starts out as really frustrating is actually really funny," Hill says.
She and Mele started Nude Coffee a year and a half ago and now perform every Friday night at the Chicago Improvisation. In August the group will be one of the 600 companies appearing at Edinburgh's famous Fringe Festival.
Getting there is no cheap feat, so the group is hosting a benefit May 16. Nude Coffee will be joined by the comedy group Boys in the Bathroom, Sean Abley's Factory Theatre, performing a 90s version of the PBS program Zoom, and other groups. There will also be food, drink, and raffle prizes. It's at the Chicago Improvisation, 504 N. Wells, at 7:30. Tickets are $12. For reservations call 792-6108.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.