t was the runaway hit that put alternative theater on the map in Phoenix. “Chicks With D–ks,” a B-movie parody packed with black leather and cat fights, started out as a student project at Arizona State University, then moved downtown to Planet Earth Theatre and blew up the box office.
Originally planned for three weekends in December 1997, it was extended again and again at the now-defunct venue, finally closing after three months. That kind of run is impressive enough in a theater town like Chicago or San Francisco. In Phoenix, it’s practically unheard-of.
The show’s success spawned a sequel — “Chicks With D–ks II: Battle With Cannibal Sluts in Outer Space!!” — and helped launch the career of Minnesota playwright Trista Baldwin, who was working on her Master of Fine Arts at ASU at the time.
“It felt like it could run forever,” says Ron May, who played Joe, aka Dog Boy, in the original production and is directing a revival at his own company, Stray Cat Theatre.
“The two ‘Chicks’ were the only things I’ve ever been involved with that sold like that. Neither one of them closed because we ran out of people. Everyone in that cast was an ASU student, so we all hit a point where it was like, ‘We cannot be doing this every weekend and ever pass a class.’ ”
A new-feminist riff on 1960s sexploitation flicks such as “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” “Chicks With D–ks” follows the adventures of Vespa DeAmour, a “good girl gone bad … gone better.” She’s a prom-queen runner-up who, via a spectacularly naughty series of events best left a surprise, ends up leading a girl biker gang, Satan’s Cherries.
“It’s super fun to have the women playing the badasses and poking fun at the gender associations that we have,” says Emily Rubin, who stars as Vespa after appearing in Stray Cat’s “Punkplay,” “Heddatron” and “The Play About the Naked Guy.”
“It’s hard to find plays with strong female characters. Women don’t get to have those meaty roles. Especially for me. I have blond hair and big boobs, so I’m always playing an idiot.”
Of course, the blond hair and etc. are assets for a role that requires lots of vampy voguing in form-fitting leather. But the real challenge performing this show is the stage combat. That’s a phrase that normally evokes images of Romeo and Tybalt crossing rapiers, but in “Chicks With D–ks,” the fight choreography (by ASU grad student Chelsea Pace) involves hair pulling, mud wrestling, body slamming and a form of martial arts invented for this satire.
“It’s a huge workout,” Rubin says. “I am hitting people with every section of my body. Some of them I can’t tell you about or give it away. I’m like, ‘How am I going to punch somebody with that?’ ”
Just in case the title wasn’t enough, that should serve as sufficient warning about the “adult” nature of this unabashedly juvenile comedy. But May insists it’s not as “alternative” as it sounds. There is no nudity and only PG-13-level profanity.
“This show is definitely not for kids, but it’s not really R-rated,” he says. “Although I don’t think I have a gauge anymore. I don’t find anything offensive.”