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NY Theater Reviews

Marin Ireland & Carolyn Baeumler/PH:Dixie Sheridan


By Jessica Branch

Beebo Brinker Chronicles is a stylish Sapphic soap opera, unapologetically un-PC. The characters have a way of tapping into universals of being in love, being hurt and being happy.

There's nothing like embracing a stereotype. Adapted for the stage by Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman, Ann Bannon's pre-Stonewall lesbian pulp saga both celebrates and savages the gay underworld of 1950s Greenwich Village. Despite the intervening decades, the drama's filled with recognizable types - the hard-drinking butch Lothario, the timid innocent who's only had sex with her sorority sister, the debauched middle-aged gay man longing for stability - but unlike Bannon's undercover classics, the play milks the melodrama and emotional mayhem for laughs-however rueful-as well as gasps. It's not as complicitous as camp, it's not as mushy as some latterday attempts at lesbian romance, but this hard-edged drama with a heart of gold works at least as well as either.

The convoluted plot traces the diverging paths of college chums and lesbian lovers Beth (Autumn Dornfield ), who chooses to marry (yes, a man) and start a family, and the ostensibly more naive Laura (Marin Ireland) who moves to big, bad New York City and its apparently seedy gay underground. She meets the suavely unhappy boy-chasing middle-aged swinger Jack Mann (David Greenspan) and the eponymous heroine. An alcoholic unreconstructed butch, Beebo (Jenn Colella) is the charismatic Casanova who presides over the ladies below 14th Street and who has, by her own admission, had half the women in the bar they frequent. She's all too eager to initiate newcomers, and the bruised Laura, head over heels in lust with her flirtatious straight roommate (the versatile Carolyn Baeumler), is ripe for the taking.

Sure, it's a stylish Sapphic soap opera, unapologetically un-PC, and utterly anti-Aristotelian. But Leigh Silverman's hyperbolic direction makes it clear that the cynicism is mostly surface. The sets are spare and noir-ish, with chiaroscuro lighting and sharp angles. The acting is similarly black and white: Laura in particular is so torn by her own conflicted impulses that she's as comic as she is sympathetic, and Beebo's bravura may well be put on, but she never lets us see past it. But the power of these characters is less in their depth than in the way they tap into the universals of being in love, being hurt, and being happy. Perhaps the most subtle of these unsubtle characters is Jack, whose surprising solution to both his and Laura's problems would have seemed implausible in the hands of a lesser actor. As it is, Greenspan makes the debonair despair both real and touching: Even as Jack skewers his lesbian friends, he loves them, and despite the craziness, there's an underlyin sense of closeknit community that rings true.