‘Everyday horror’ mined for comedy: that’s Girl Brain, and they’re back

Caley Suliak, Ellie Heath, Alyson Dicey of Girl Brain, in the luxury bathroom at Theatre Network. Photo by Brianne Jang, bb collective.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make a sketch comedy trio revel in being together again — in person, in a spanky theatre, rehearsing a new show, with a fog machine. 

“Where are we?” says Ellie Heath in something like wonder. “The delight! The excitement! We’re like little girls at a sleepover putting on a show for our parents….”

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Where Girl Brain is this weekend, Thursday through Sunday, is the beautiful Lorne Cardinal black box theatre at Theatre Network’s Roxy. Where Heath, Alyson Dicey and Caley Suliak were to be found Monday afternoon is in their separate apartments, in the living room called Zoom sharing a screen. 

It’s especially sweet to be doing a live in-person full-length show, says Suliak, after a summer of busy-ness in which the three had very separate gigs, positive reinforcement for the link between sketch comedy and theatre. Both she and Heath had solo Fringe shows, The Paladin and Fake n’ Bake respectively, the one at La Cité francophone and the other at the Roxy. Dicey got bronzed out in the sun in a perpetual motion multi-tasking assignment running the KidsFringe. They’ve been writing sketches for the new show ever since. 

Togetherness, just hanging out, seems like a treat. “So great to be collaborating with my besties,” Suliak says. “Having somebody to pump you up backstage … after doing a solo show and being by myself in the dressing room,” the very definition of solitude,   

After a couple of years of bizarre, often lonely, and far from comical, pandemic separateness, they wondered (as we all do) who they are and what still makes them laugh in the fall of 2022. “The heart of what we do remains intact!” she says. 

Caley Suliak, Alyson Dicey, Ellie Heath of Girl Brain, at Theatre Network. Photo by Brianne Jang, bb collective

The three actors/ writers/ best friends who share Girl Brain specialize in mining the “ordinary” absurdities and hypocrisies of the world. Which, unsurprisingly, have not gone away. You know, those familiar moments of life when, as Dicey says, “you wish you could just dissolve into the wall.” Or moments of maximum irritation when regular people overstay their welcome and turn into  “nightmare people.” And as for dating? An endless treasure trove of embarrassment, aggro … and sketch possibilities. 

All of the above find their way into the Girl Brain show we’ll see at the Roxy, a mix of the new and “the re-vamped and improved,” as Dicey says. In honour of the spooky season, they’d originally thought of “true crime” as a through-line. Now it’s a a riff on Halloween that she calls “everyday horror.” 

Naturally, Dicey’s thoughts turned instantly to costumes. ‘What is my biggest pet peeve? I’ll dress as that…. People who don’t follow through with the promises they make to you.” Costume concepts don’t come more impossible than that. Not going to happen. Incidentally, feel empowered to attend Girl Brain wearing a costume yourself; there’s a costume contest, with prizes, every show.

“All our shows are scary, kind of spooky in a way,” Dicey laughs, “because we’re always talking about the things that annoy us, things in life that are scary…. Yup, everyday horror.” 

“The Overstayers,” for example, was inspired by her brother’s experience on a joint cabin holiday retreat with another couple and their kids who more or less moved in, ate all the food, drank the booze even though they had their own cabin. And how’s this for everyday horror? “The ex- of the guy you just started dating shows up at a party, and you think, at the moment, ‘this is the worse moment of my life’…. Later, it’s ‘what was I thinking? If only I could have seen how silly it really was’.”  

Suliak plays “a lot of men in the show,” she says. “Which is not horrifying to me, but might be them!” (laughter all round). “One sketch took me quite a bit of time to write because it was actually very personal, dredging up those feelings…. How do I make this funny? I don’t want to revisit this. But I should. Because I think it’s relatable.” 

And “relatable” is a veritable mantra with Girl Brain. As Heath says, “it’s fun to find parts of our every day lives that get under our skin…. In rehearsal, we get together and have creative conversations about the little things that make us laugh….” It’s how Girl Brain came into being in the first place. 

They play a wide assortment of characters in the sketches they write, sometimes for themselves to play and sometimes with each other in mind. Heath’s specialty, she thinks, is “high-strung female characters. I like really wacky, crazy characters. Kooks…. Actually I think we all do. That’s probably why we get along.”

Favourite characters in the show? For Dicey it might be the woman who’s unstoppably excited about her Bosch washer and drier, “Inspired by my mom but bigger and sillier!” For Suliak “there are so many lovable, ridiculous, and yes hatable characters in the show that I can’t pick just one.”  

As for Heath, it’s “The Weeping Vag,” a recurring sketch she narrates, à la Masterpiece Theatre, “as a storytelling nymph.” Her Girl Brain cohorts nod their assent. For the new show designer Tessa Stamp has fashioned them a handsome historical tome, a volume apparently direct from the medieval period. It looks “so ancient, so precious,” as Dicey says, “containing the stories and traumas of womanhood we need to pass on.…” 

Stamp wondered if she might decorate the grand volume “like an ornate vagina,” Heath reports. “Absolutely!” Then “is a tampon string hanging from it too much?” Nope, “great!” was the response.

“With a book mark that’s furry,” smiles Heath sweetly, and pauses. “Yup, we’re back!” 

[And they’re back again at the Roxy with another new show Dec. 16 to 18, too]. 

PREVIEW

Girl Brain

Starring: Alyson Dicey, Ellie Heath, Caley Suliak, with special guests Natasha Lyn Myles (Oct. 27) and Tiff Hall (Oct. 28 to 30)

Where: Theatre Network at the Roxy, 10708 124 St.

Running: Thursday through Sunday 

Tickets: theatrenetwork.ca

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