Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Beebo Brinker Chronicles (Play Review)

On Thursday, October 15th “queer” history came to life at The Re-Bar. The Beebo Brinker Chronicles opened to an enthusiastic house that included Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, Ms. Ann Bannon, herself. Featuring the talents of Rhonda J. Soikowski as Beebo, Polly Wood as Laura, Tom Stewart as Jack, Christopher Dodge as Charlie, and Opal Peachy as Beth with appearances by producers Cherry Manhattan, Sasha Summer Cousineau and Donna Stewart, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, is a hot and sexy piece of dramatic camp.

Okay, so what exactly is “dramatic camp”? You know it took me awhile to figure that out but if you go to the show with that descriptor in mind if will save you a touch of confusion. The show walks a fine line between real and over the top. This was off putting (for me) at first. A “drama queen” at heart, I like having my heart tugged on at shows, and the back and forth took me by surprise. Still when I realized, “Duh! This is pulp fiction” it all made sense. It is a genre of art we are no longer familiar with and to see it on stage, well it took a few scenes to get used to. Still once you’re on that train with Laura, the ride is pretty smooth.

The show started off with a classic “noire” scene between the characters of Beth and Laura. Laura wants Beth to run away with her, and Beth leaves her for Charlie. This ‘betrayal’ sets the story in motion and the unresolved romance will haunt both characters through the next nine years. We see the first repercussions of this in some fairly intense dramatic scenes between Beth and her husband, Charlie. Beth is a confused, closeted lesbian, who in my opinion is little more than a selfish child. Charlie is a caring if naïve, all-American boy who knows his wife is ‘queer’ but has hoped throughout their marriage that his love and their children would be enough to hold her. As the story unfolds we find this is not the case.

Immediately however, the show shifts from drama to light hearted camp. We are introduced to Laura and Jack, and shortly after to Beebo. T. Stewart as Jack is an over the top eccentric and interesting contrast to the seriousness of his “Mother.” Polly Wood as Laura is a serious tortured soul, caught up in her romanticized college relationship with Beth, and at the same time coming into an awareness of her sexuality. Soikowski as Beebo is charming, boyish and in a word incorrigible. The three form a sort of ‘love’ triangle, and through the rest of the play the journey and changing relationships provides the major story arc.

Producers Cherry, Sasha and Donna all make appearances in the show. The scene between Marcie (Cherry) and Laura was heart wrenching (and I am told spoke deeply to a number of young lesbians in the crowd), Donna as Lili was a total scene stealer (loved it!), and Sasha as a tortured lesbian author was smoldering, callous, calculating and terribly funny. Each added some wonderful moments in the play, providing motivation for growth and change.

The primary actors each brought talent and heart to the table.  Rhonda was delightful, sexy, pitiable and frustrating all where she needed to be.  Erin drew the audience in, and really made them feel.  Opal expertly portrayed the frustrated, slightly unstable, and childish Beth. Her performance was fine enough that I didn't much care for her by the end of the night, and I really should get to know her because I understand she is actually a lovely person!  It was easy to sympathize with Christopher's Charlie.  BTW, Christopher also played the character of Burr, and his portrayal of both the positive and negative sides of the naive/egotistical straight boy was nicely done.  As a certified "Dutch Boy" I relate with the character of Jack, and though I would have liked him to easy up on the bluster once in awhile, I enjoyed Tom's take on Jack.

The play itself is not a perfect construct. It is three books condensed into a two hour production; and as such, there are gaps that I wanted filled, character development I wanted elaborated on, etc. I’d like to see someone take the source material and put it on the screen, a mini-series would be appropriate… someone pitch it to HBO. With the exception of the ladies in this production no one does staged sex better (and yes there are some hot sex scenes in the play). The staging and sporadic narrative bits gave the play a sort of graphic novel feel that I found very interesting and intentional or not, approaching each scene like a graphic “panel” was smart. Kudos Katjana, for choice or instinct!

At its heart The Beebo Brinker Chronicles is about growing up through heart break. Laura matures through the loss of Beth, her experience with Marcie, the trials with Beebo and relinquishing her stubborn self-dependence. Beebo matures, when for the first time in her life she experience lasting love than suffers true loss. And Beth, well… the play ends with the hope that Beth too can grow, and learn from her own heartbreak.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do hope you get a chance to see The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, playing at The Re-Bar every weekend through October 9th. It has the power to make you laugh, cry, and most importantly to remember and think. As Ms. Bannon shared in her post-performance address to the audience, this play and the passion its members bring to it would have shown her friends who had struggled through the real life trials of 1950/60s gay life, that their hardships would not be forgotten and perhaps even been worth it. We are not where we need to be, but we are worlds apart from where we were. That is thanks to people like Ann Bannon and the women (and men) she knew in her youth. Brava divas!


Fosse Jack

PS: I wish that Stage Manager, Leslie Manning was in the Re-Bar booth more often.  The technical aspects of the show went off without a visible hitch.

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