It didn’t take long to realize why Abby McEnany is considered to be a very unique performer across the city. No sooner had the show started when Abby came dancing on stage to the sounds of MC Luscious 90’s hit, “Boom! I Got Your Boyfriend.” It seemed I was in for a night of wacky humor and physical comedy. But Abby refused to give in to expectation and spent the next fifty minutes delivering to the audience a rollercoaster ride of touching nostalgic anecdotes with enough comedic prowess mixed in to keep everything balanced.
Abby revealed early on that she is a very private person. In fact, she went so far as to declare that everything she said in the room must stay there. I will therefore try to stay true to Abby by only revealing the very best parts of what she said. Unfortunately, that comprises most of the show. Oh, well.
I can say with a high degree of certainty that Abby does not want to “Make America Great Again!” I say this because her first diatribe of the evening was directed against people who can’t understand why everyone needs to use a public restroom from time to time. Abby made it clear that the fact she has short hair and men’s clothing should not preclude her from having access to a bathroom. In one instance, an older woman told Abby that the “women’s room is for women.” Abby screamed back, “I am a woman!” “Well, of course you are”, the frightened woman answered, before presumably exiting the bathroom without washing her hands.
Abby’s next story concerned her formative years in high school. The night being rehashed was the night of Abby’s first kiss. Her crush was named Warren and he may not have been all that but to her he was, at least at that time. After consuming numerous alcoholic beverages, she got what she was after. But like most high school experiences, things turned sour. Abby projectile vomited all over her father’s favorite sweater. Luckily, he wouldn’t be in town for another few days, so she would be able to get it cleaned. Her relationship with Warren however was presumably finished.
Abby’s next bit was perfectly linear. She explained how her great desire after high school was to attend Brown. After all, she had four family members who had already done just that. Her college essay revolved around her desire not to commit suicide because of her passion for social change. Abby couldn’t help but ponder the fact that this may have not been the best course of action. She was waitlisted. Abby hoped this would give them time to “hide the knives and razor blades.” But alas, she never got in.
Like most things in life, Abby’s next move was serendipitous. She ended up moving to Chicago… for twenty years. Her first step was attending the University of Chicago… for six. Her time spent at U of C was composed of a lot of back and forth. Quite literally, in fact, because Abby suffered from an early documented case of OCD. Ironically, Abby seemed to take some satisfaction from this fact. If only we all could be so proud of our bouts with mental illness.
A major part of the evening was spent educating the audience on sexual identity. Abby made it very apparent that she considers herself to be a dyke and not a lesbian. To further illustrate the point, she brought out poster boards so the audience could visually read descriptions of the difference. One person labeled as a queer was Rachel Maddow. Abby opined that “she wears lesbian clothing though.”
Abby took this opportunity to discuss her own personal story of “gender fluidity.” She is mostly attracted to women but occasionally dates men. She even winked at a twenty something guy in the audience and remarked that “it’s been about eight years, so it might be time again.”
Abby confessed that she has had many struggles with people who do not understand her sexual preference or her style of clothes. She claims that a woman at a lesbian bar even gave her trouble for thinking she was dressed like a man. But, she reflected that people she would least expect to back her have come out of the woodwork at different times in her life. An ex-girlfriend of Abby’s once invited her to a party at the home of a Catholic girl who matriculated from Notre Dame. After being heckled by some frat guys for wearing overalls, the girl ushered the close-minded individuals out the door. Abby then went on to reflect on how communities can be fractured and breed misunderstanding. She also expressed gratitude though on how understanding can come from unlikely places. When Abby came on stage I expected a night of laughter and was not disappointed. The touching moments however weren’t expected, but were greatly appreciated.
“Work in Progress” is the follow-up to Abby’s lauded original one-woman show entitled “They’re Not All Winners!” This show is directed by Brendan Dowling. It can be seen Fridays through July 29th. There will be no show July 15th. iO Chicago is located at 1501 N. Kingsbury. Tickets are $14.00. Call 312-929-2401.