Lesbian Love Octagon

by Sloan Rollins

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 12, 2013

The cast of ’Lesbian Love Octagon’
The cast of ’Lesbian Love Octagon’  

"Lesbian Love Octagon" has such a provocative title that one fails to realize until about halfway through the show just how sensibly apt it is for the story at hand. The "musical comedy about dyke drama" follows the travails of a gaggle of Sapphic twenty-somethings through their collective quest for romantic partnership in and around the East Village of the '90s.

The period piece relies heavily on the assumption that its audience is well versed in and happily conformant to conventional lesbian stereotypes. Ani DiFranco is referenced ad nauseum along with organic soy chai lattes, tree hugging, cats and militant activism. Real feminist lesbians probably spend a great deal of energy fighting the very assumptions and stereotypes that are employed here to portray them. Only one or two characters are nuanced beyond the silhouette of a type, which is disappointing since the pool of talented actresses on stage is worthy of much more thoughtful material.

Which is not to say the show isn't big fun. It is. And it celebrates, acknowledges and roots for a significant portion of the population that prior to "The L Word" went largely overlooked in the media. Homosexual men, on the other hand, had "The Boys in the Band" as early as the '60s. An ensemble piece about gay men on the Upper East Side, it was criticized for its sweeping generalizations and reliance on stereotypes before going on to become what some call a milestone in the movement. So maybe that's just how these things tend to start out.

In the beginning we meet our unlucky-in-love protagonist Sue. Plain old unremarkable Sue, another fitting name. She's a not-too-butch, not-too-fem, even-tempered and a dreadfully normal passenger of life. In an effort to make her the universally relatable every-man, book writer Kim Kressal has left Sue rather blank. Though it's clear we're supposed to be rooting for her, Sue's cluelessness about what she wants makes it hard for us to hope she gets it.

Jealous Wendy is portrayed by a scene-stealing Lindsay Naas (whom I predict right now will win a Tony in thirty years for her portrayal of Miss Hannigan in the tenth Broadway revival of Annie). Her voice, face, acting and the resulting charm are sublime.

Sue has been taken for a ride by Darla, a vapid bisexual who has ostensibly dumped her for not being queer enough. Now Darla is dating Jerry, a transgendered male who, prior to his transition, used to be Sue's girlfriend. Got that? Now Sue's more recent ex-girlfriend Wendy is dating Jess, who may still be in love with her own ex-girlfriend Chris, who ends up having an affair with Anya, an uber-fem femme fatale with a dildo problem. That's just the tip of the iceberg in this convoluted soap opera of interconnectedness.

The lesbian love triangle involving Wendy, Jess and Chris is really where the story gets juicy: maybe because a triangle is easier to follow, or maybe because the actresses playing Wendy and Jess are so damn magnetic. Jealous Wendy is portrayed by a scene-stealing Lindsay Naas (whom I predict right now will win a Tony in thirty years for her portrayal of Miss Hannigan in the tenth Broadway revival of "Annie").

Naas's voice, face, acting and the resulting charm are sublime, especially in "Ubiquitous Ex-girlfriend," a song with shades of Sondheim, about the lingering friendship between Jess and Chris. Jess, jealous in her own right, spends too much time with Chris, but worries about Wendy's wondering eye. Jess is played by the uniquely beautiful and charismatic Ti Grieco. Every time Grieco left the stage I found myself mildly disappointed to see her go.

The same goes for Jenny Atwood, the willowy stunner wearing fishnets and a bump-it, portraying Anya the masturbation maven who stages and hosts an orgy in Sue's honor -- the perfect way to end Act 1.

Kressal is an adept storyteller, and she shows flashes of true brilliance as a lyricist; but with such a supremely intricate story to tell, perhaps it was inevitable that her character development would suffer. Sue's big epiphany aria "Clarity" (tenderly delivered by Caitlin Lee Reid) is the moment we come closest to understanding our heroine. But by the end of the act,, Sue has lost all of whatever clarity she had, and when a well-worn joke becomes the absurd musical finale, so has the plot.

"Lesbian Love Octagon" plays through June 29 at The Kraine Theater at 85 East 4th St. For tickets or information, call 212-460-0982 or visit horsetrade.info