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On Stage: Factory Theater's violent femmes

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"This is my Charlie's Angels lunch box," Amy Seeley tells me, placing the metal box on the table between us. On its side are pictures of the two dark-haired angels battling the forces of evil--personified by two badly dressed men with awful haircuts--while the blond angel, tied to a stake, is beaming, obviously grateful to be saved by her sisters.

"This has them beating up the bad guys, but notice they are very happy and they are smiling," Seeley says, describing the three TV detectives. "Their hair is good, and they wear cute little outfits. I love them because they are smart and they solve crimes--and they were gorgeous. And I don't think they ever slept with anybody."

"That's why they were always beating up men," quips Seeley's writing partner Jenny Kirkland.

For the past six weeks Seeley and Kirkland have been working on their own postfeminist action story, Beaver Hunt!, which opens this Friday night at the Factory Theater. The play is a buddy-movie parody about a pair of renegade women on the run from the law, sort of in the vein of Thelma & Louise. But Seeley takes special pains to say that her protagonists have more in common with the pair of stone-cold hit men in Pulp Fiction than the wusses played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. Seeley says her real inspiration comes from the ultraviolent movies of Hong Kong director John Woo. "I love his films," she says. "Hard Target. Hard-Boiled. Hard! Hard! Hard! We have a big violent shoot-out scene in the show that's an homage to him."

Seeley and Kirkland first met when they were both students at the Second City Training Center. But Seeley's memories of Second City are not fond. "Comedy is a sport, and no man wants a girl on his team," she says. "It's like when we were growing up and the boys played flag football in the vacant lot. They didn't want a girl on their team. So the girls would get together and make up cheerleading routines. And in a sense that was what was expected of us when we tried to create original comedy at Second City."

Seeley's frustration was shared by Kirkland and a group of fellow Second City graduates who struck out on their own, led by Sean Abley, to form the Factory Theater in 1992. Abley had already scored a success with his camp staging of the 1930s antidrug propaganda film Reefer Madness.

Abley and Seeley had met a few years before at Players Workshop, where they discovered their mutual affection for bad movies, though Abley preferred horror films like Night of the Living Dead and The Corpse Grinders while Seeley was attracted to violent exploitation films.

After opening their theater space in Rogers Park, the first Factory Theater production was Snafu, a refined version of Seeley and Kirkland's show at the Second City Training Center. Directed by Abley, Snafu was your run-of-the-mill Second City-style revue with one notable difference--the women in the show were allowed to be every bit as funny as the men.

"We had all gone through the improv mill," Seeley says, "and we all have been victimized one way or another, and it made us stronger. It made us better team players." Kirkland adds, "We learned that being in Second City or the ImprovOlympic is not the be-all and end-all of Chicago theater."

Abley and Seeley teamed up for some of the Factory's most successful shows, including Bitches and Attack of the Killer B's. But when it came time to work on Beaver Hunt! Seeley wanted to collaborate with Kirkland. "Jenny and I wrote Beaver Hunt! in like a pen pal way. I started it. And then we brainstormed some scene ideas, and I handed it over to Jenny, and she wrote it a little farther and then she handed it back to me."

The result is a play full of hilarious hard-boiled dialogue and over-the-top violence that could pass for a serious Tarantino tribute if it wasn't being played for laughs.

"We want to have strong opinions," Seeley says, "but we don't want anyone to think we are bitches."

"But if we were men," Kirkland responds, "they wouldn't think we were being bitches. They would think we were being assertive."

Beaver Hunt! opens this Friday night at 8 PM at the Factory Theater, 1257 W. Loyola. It then plays in an open run on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM (no performances December 23 through 31). Tickets cost $5. Call 274-1345 for more.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter Barreras.

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