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This Friday, Sacramento will welcome back its longest running musical in Sacramento theater history, Six Women with Brain Death (or Expiring Minds Want to Know), as a special tribute to former Studio Theatre director, producer and actor Jackie Schultz.
Schultz opened the Studio Theatre in 1994 with a mission to promote theater from the female perspective. She opened Six Women in 1996 and it immediately sold out three months in advance. The show continued to run until 2006, when Schultz's battle with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) along with opportunities to explore other ventures required her to end the show.
Six Women is a fast-paced, musical satire of life and pop culture from an entirely left-of-field, feminine standpoint. The show consists of a bizarre yet hilarious combination of songs and sketches targeted at middle-aged women and the unique problems and challenges presented to them by our American culture.
The authors explore a wacky range of topics including grocery line tabloid headlines, TV soap operas, the fantasy life of Barbie and Ken, severed heads of aging prom queens, and the unforgettable forest detour where Bambi meets Rambo (the infamous Rambi scene). Schultz says Six Women makes you "laugh like you have never laughed before."
This cult-classic revival of Six Women will be presented by the Lambda Players under the direction of Kitty Czarnecki, a former actress in the musical.
This is the Lambda Players 21st season as an active theater troupe in the Sacramento area. They are an all-volunteer, non-profit organization with a mission to educate and entertain through the live-theater medium, with a focus relevant to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population.
The Lambda Players transitioned from purely a traveling theater troupe to a full-fledged community theater with a full-time home in 2004 when they moved into a 41-seat theater on 17th Street, which they named the Lambda Players Theatre.
In September 2007, the Lambda Players made the Studio Theatre their home. Chris Crittenden, the president of the Lambda Players, says the Studio Theatre has been a "great theater to perform in for the past two years." However, at the conclusion of this show, the Lambda Players will be moving their troupe to 1127 21st St., in the Lavender Heights area of Sacramento, a location that they feel better supports their mission.
Czarnecki is a returning alum to Six Women. Czarnecki acted in the show under the direction of Schultz for two and a half years. Six Women is unique as there are no set roles and the actors each play a handful of roles throughout the show.
"It is a very quirky show with a cult-following appeal," she said. "I have a better understanding of what it means to people. Being in the show is like a sisterhood. You create a bond like no other."
Over 50 actors performed in the original 10-year run of Six Women and some audience members loved the show so much they saw it from 20 to 50 times. Schultz believes that Sacramentans felt Six Women was "our show."
While the contents of the vignettes comprising Six Women remain the same, Czarnecki ensures the audience will have several new surprises in store. One major difference from the original show relates to the demographic make-up of the cast members themselves. In the original show, the cast members were all petite women in their 30s. In the new show, Czarnecki has actors ranging in age from 21 to 45 and ranging in dress size from 2 to 22. Czarnecki believes that the current actors are "more representative of women across the board, making it easier for women to relate to [the show]." Czarnecki is especially excited for the Rambi scene. "I hope it makes people laugh like it makes me laugh," Czarnecki said.
"Jackie has been so involved in the theater world and this show is her baby, so this is a tribute to her," Crittenden said. Czarnecki is "thrilled that it honors her."
Schultz has had a very public 12-year battle with CFIDS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis. CFIDS is not well understood by the medical community, and is oftentimes diagnosed through a time-consuming and difficult process of eliminating other diagnosable illnesses. CFIDS consists of a series of debilitating disorders affecting the brain and multiple body systems. Symptoms include muscle and joint pain, memory problems and severe exhaustion where patients cannot maintain their energy for any length of time. Some patients also report digestive disturbances, depression, poor immune response and cardiac and respiratory issues. As Schultz says, "The truth behind it: It's complicated. The complexity of the disease is mind-numbing."
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this disease is that there is no definitive cause, no medical tests to diagnose it, no known cure, and the recovery rate is low. Many patients with CFIDS carry a heavy psychological burden as they struggle to get others to recognize their needs due to the ambiguity of CFIDS as an actual medical syndrome. Since most of the symptoms of CFIDS are invisible to the outside observer and can be highly variable in severity, it is difficult for outside observers to understand the difficulties that people with this illness must contend with.
"My battle [with CFIDS] has been hell," Schultz said. "There is no answer. There is no cure. In California, there are very few resources [for patients with CFIDS]."
While Schultz can no longer act she says she is "the biggest cheerleader on the planet" and looks forward to the return of Six Women with Brain Death. The show runs for eight weeks from Aug. 14 to Oct. 4 at the Studio Theatre, located at 1028 R St. in Downtown Sacramento. Shows will be on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Ticket prices range from $13 to $17 and can be purchased in advance through the Lambda Players website or by calling the box office at (916) 444-8229. Photos included in this article are coutesy of Lambda Players president Chris Crittenden.