Women in love
Rogue roars back with inspired display of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction
Beebo Brinker, a flirty and cocky 1950s Greenwich Village tomboy with Converse All-Star sneakers, James Dean posture and taped-down breasts, is at once a primary object of lesbian desire and a wise sage in Rogue Theatre’s latest, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles.
At Betty Burns’ direction, Beebo, played alluringly by Keilana Decker, and a swell complement of five other players combine to make the Rogue’s take on a juicy piece of Ann Bannon lesbian literature a worthy and well-presented winner.
There are plenty of laughs here, but the play, a rare local lesbian-centered stage production, goes far deeper. Combining dramatic depth with comedy, camp, noir and a good deal of romance, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles offers a fascinating glimpse into the not-too-distant past, of closeted homosexuality and the women who came up against society’s pressures, marrying a man and raising a family, or going with their true sensibilities and allowing themselves to find love and sex in the arms of another woman.
With Beebo never far from the action, the play follows the trials of two former lovers—Laura (played by Dana Moore) and Beth (Delovely Delisa, identified in the program as “Delezzy Delisa”)—after Beth decides to follow convention and begin a life and family with all-American Charlie (Sean Green), who has no understanding of or empathy for lesbian relationships. “All these gals need is a real man,” he offers. We are privy to Laura and Beth’s lives from their opening-scene breakup through eight years of wide-ranging episodes: closeted-ness, temptation, pursuit of their lesbian desires, and frequent memories of each other and a flame that seems destined never to be rekindled.
Using the dark and gay-friendly Cellar club in Greenwich Village as her center of operations, Beebo holds court with those who come by, and is especially astute at recognizing in-the-closet lesbians and making them feel at ease—all the way to her apartment. Decker fittingly and believably offers all sides of Beebo’s complex self, from promiscuous object of lust to lesbian love counselor, all the while displaying flashes of jealousy, and exhibiting her own struggle between recreational sex and finding true love.
Local theatrical all-star Amber Miller offers many of the play’s best campy and comedic moments as Marcie, Laura’s sometime roommate with bright lipstick, sassy hairstyle and breasts pointy enough to poke an eye out. Miller also excels in a bit role as novelist Nina Spicer.
Jesse Mills is perfect as the cynical Jack Mann, a fit but aging gay playboy. He also acts as a caring big brother to the female patrons at The Cellar who are drawn into Beebo’s tangled web. With his British accent, Mills is not only exceedingly funny, but also charming and dashing, like an effeminate David Niven. (And his eventual life partner certainly comes as a surprise.)
Delisa, who sports an impossibly steadfast red flip hairstyle as Beth, is a fine femme fatale who often recites her lines while melodramatically directing her big eyes skyward. Her character finds the role of devoted wife and loving mother uncomfortable. “It doesn’t mean that every time you feel like having me I feel like being had,” she tells her husband. Despite the caricature nature of her role, we genuinely care about Beth and her self-discoveries.
Moore offers plenty of the necessary complexities of her character, who wins and loses at love while constantly gaining insight into herself and the world. Though considering the campy script and exaggerated mannerisms in voice and action that the rest of the cast exhibits, she plays her role maybe a little too straight (pardon the expression).
Kudos to the light and set designers, the choice of accompanying music and especially to those who make each of the more than two dozen scene changes happen in less than 10 seconds, thanks to revolving pedestals that turn apartment walls into nightclub settings, and a coffee table that turns into a bar shelf as well as several people’s beds.