"When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh," the late Nora Ephron once wrote, neatly summing up the power of self-deprecating comedy.
The voice Ephron developed in her essays — honest, acerbic, sweetly subversive — echoes throughout women's writing today. The actress and writer Annabelle Gurwitch's book "I See You Made an Effort," on the indignities of turning 50, is a kind of junior varsity version of Ephron's book "I Feel Bad about My Neck," on the indignities of being 65. And these are just two of the voices speaking openly these days about menopause, a topic once cloaked in shame.
So it's not surprising that the subject matter and humor of Gurwitch's one-woman show based on "I See You Made an Effort," now at Skylight Theatre, feel familiar.
Gurwitch is a member of the "sandwich generation," adults caring for teenage children and elderly parents while contending with their own incipient decrepitude, AARP mailings, Eileen Fisher clothing and sexual irrelevance. Or as she pithily puts it, "My son has an excess of hormones, and I don't have any."
Gurwitch, a lively and charming interlocutor, classily dressed in a silk blouse and slim black pants (She says she looks like a "plainclothes detective"; she looks adorable), addresses the audience from a black box set featuring a single wooden chair and a series of clever screen projections by Jason H. Thompson. She tells a story, with many tangents, about attending a punk-rock concert with her 14-year-old son.
The risks of such a show are that anybody who isn't a menopausal woman will be unmoved by the humor, while the menopausal women will have heard it before or, if not, be plunged into despair by this bleak vision of their fate.
Director Bart DeLorenzo (Gurwitch was in his delicious production of Donald Margulies' "Coney Island Christmas" at the Geffen Playhouse in 2012) can't entirely avoid these dangers, but he keeps the tone light and the pace brisk and more importantly, highlights the distinctive notes in Gurwitch's generational lamentation.
The Ephron sisters dissed Eileen Fisher years ago ("You know you have finally given up when you go to Eileen Fisher," they wrote in "Love, Loss and What I Wore"), so when Gurwitch says women wearing Eileen Fisher resemble "elder statesmen in a sci-fi movie about a dystopian future," she's not breaking new ground. But her video parody of a scarf-tying tutorial from the Eileen Fisher website is fresh and funny.
Similarly, her best jokes are the quirkiest, least generic; she has a dry take on the challenges of our digital culture. "What is my son doing outside?" she asks at one point in her story. "He must have made it to the end of the Internet." If much of her material feels recycled, overworked and thin, she still offers us "women of a certain age" some laughs on the slog toward our inevitable obsolescence.