The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
Kudos to Kutumba Theatre Project for adding spice to what can sometimes be bland theatre in south Florida with their production of "The Beebo Brinker Chronicles."
At the helm of the company and director of this show is a steady-handed Kim Ehly. Her Kutumba is a welcome addition to the SoFlo theatre world, as well as the LBGT community it serves. And serve it does, in spades, with the mounting of this pulp fiction play.
The title is a misnomer as the story is not about Beebo Brinker, a suave James Dean lookalike who trolls lesbian bars in search of her next lay. Instead, the play traces the acclimation of Laura, a college coed spurned by her sorority sister and first lover, to the gay scene in 1950’s Greenwich Village.
Her college roommate, Beth has decided on marriage and children, realizing too late that she has done so at the cost of her own happiness.
Arriving in the Big Apple, Laura, played by a sizzling hot Blaze Powers, hooks up with Jack, a witty and urbane homosexual. Matt Stabile hits every mark right on the money in this characterization.
As he takes Laura under his wing and guides her through the twists and turns of gay life in America’s ’50s and ’60s, his love for her is evident; thus his proposition later in the play is completely believable.
He touchingly refers to her throughout the play as ’mother.’ Stabile is particularly good relating the sad fate that awaits aging lesbians during the Eisenhower years.
His Jack also has some of the play’s funniest lines, in one scene cautioning Laura against hitting on women who do not like the taste of ’bearded clam’ and shun ’pearl diving.’
In fact, on a dare from her boyfriend, Marcie, Laura’s straight roommate, tries to seduce Laura. As a sexual tease, Chris Groom’s Marcie, a Minnie Mouse on Five Hour energy, does not convince.
Groom is a much more successful seductress playing Nina, a pulp fiction writer of lesbian novels. Her Nina is wonderful to watch as she slithers around Beth, Laura’s aforementioned college lover, and invades her personal space coming within inches of a lip lock. Groom also has a nice comic turn as Lili, one of Beebo Brinker’s former lovers.
For her part, Fridh as Beebo Brinker is spot on. Her Beebo is a wizened realist, searching for love in all the wrong places. Give the actress credit for humanizing Beebo and rescuing her from becoming a butch stereotype.
Beebo may seem like a reprehensible user, but Fridh compels us root for her in the end. Only Fridh and Stabile are wholly able to traverse the tightrope of bad "B" movie acting and avoid falling into the abyss of melodrama.
To be fair to all of the actors, some of this is inherent in the writing and trying to circumvent it is next to impossible. Case in point is much of Power’s dialogue. In spite of it all, she is extremely powerful in her final rejection of Beth.
Sadly, this cannot be said for all of the performances. As Charlie, the husband of Beth, Raynor G. Garranchan, misses the mark both physically and emotionally. His Charlie is all of one cloth, never riding the roller coaster of conflicting emotions necessary to feel compassion for the forgotten spouse.
The part requires a dashing, figure, a la "Mad Men," to believe that Beth could ever be wooed away from the eye candy that is Laura. This Charlie is more of a nebbish.
As he is a fine comic actor, Garranchan fares better in a brief scene as Marcie’s boyfriend. Sandi Stock has the thankless job of making the nagging, unfulfilled wife interesting. She does better as the play goes on.
The costumes are vintage and work well. However, Melanie Garbo fails to provide the actresses with the hats, gloves and purses mandated by the period.
The abandonment of these accessories by Laura as she becomes used to Greenwich Village life would also have been indicative of her growing comfort with her new lifestyle.
Although the bras and panties are authentic for the period, Ehly, as director, fails to enhance the visual appeal by omitting the garter belts and stocking, also necessary to the period. The sex scenes would have been even more erotic with the addition of garter belts and hose.
The musical transitions, in the form of pop songs from the period, selected by assistant director Nicole Stoddard and technician, David Hart succinctly sum up the emotional arcs at the end of each scene and carry the audience through the scenic changes. The use of jazz instrumentals under Beebo’s narrations is also very effective.
The only addition to the sound design would have the "B" movie underscoring during some for the more melodramatic scenes. This would have helped to reinforce the pulp fiction style of the piece.
In keeping with film noir mood, the lighting by Sean Cutler is very dark as is the set by Tyler K. Smith. All the furniture, walls and set pieces are colored in shades of grey and black. Although the monochromatic color scheme unifies the various locales and makes the blocking from place to place seamless, the over effect is that of an unfinished set. But Smith’s use of two levels is very workable.
Director Ehly uses the sprawling space well. Her blocking never draws attention to itself. Also, she skillfully navigates the sex scenes with aplomb.
In one scene Sandi Stock, as Beth, reads from one of the pulp novels as Laura and Beebo simultaneously act out the passage in bed on the other side of the stage. Stock does a great job here, evoking the steamy longing of both of the sex-starved women.
If your orientation is toward ’the love that dare not speak its name’ or you are just a guy looking for some ’girl on girl action,’ "The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" will not disappoint.