Opening on Thursday, September 15th, at Re-bar is the Seattle premiere of “The Beebo Brinker Chronicles”, one of this year’s most anticipated theater events. The play, based on Ann Bannon’s pioneering lesbian pulp fiction series of the 1950s, was originally produced off-Broadway by Lily Tomlin, earning glowing reviews and the GLAAD Media Award. The Seattle premiere is the culmination of the hugely popular retro lesbian pulp festival also inspired by Ann Bannon’s characters. The ambitious 6 month-long festival, featuring dozens of Seattle’s favorite performers, musicians and designers, ran at sold out houses including ACT Theater’s Central Heating Lab. For the full length stage play, the producers, Sasha Summer Cousineau, Donna Stewart and Cherry Manhattan assembled an exciting cast that includes Seattle treasures Rhonda Soikowski and Polly Wood. Ann Bannon herself was particularly impressed with Soikowski who brings the iconic Beebo Brinker to life with both smoldering bravado and humanizing subtlety. It’s not surprising that a sexy play about gay women set in the 50s would be a hit at a time when Americans are falling in love with the look of that era via Mad Men, retro hipster chic and neo-burlesque. However, the play by Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, allowing award-winning director Katjana Vadeboncoeur (“The Cult of Pretty” at Arts West, “Swimming in the Shallows” at Washington Ensemble Theater) to explore the raw heartbreak beneath the veneer of mannered period flourish and pinup glamour nostalgia.
Katjana Vadeboncoeur: “This show looks and feels as if the pulp novel covers came to life and explained how they’ve got into these situations on the covers of the novels. But the farther we went back into the history to show it from the 1950s perspective with its prejudices, homophobia, its bizarre stylizations, we found that we got closer and closer to what today’s relevance was. What originally drew me to the project was the fact that there is an unreality to a pulp novel cover image. They’re not photographs. They are paintings. The women are physically impossible – their proportions, their clothing is on them in impossible ways. And there is a real story behind a woman who has an impossibility as her image and the way that paralleled people who were living closeted lives in the 50s. Because you see the falseness of how they are living in a style that’s not real, that doesn’t suit them. The heightened nature of what the 50s was as an aesthetic and the heightened nature of what it was to play straight in their lives – I think it’s a really interesting crossover.”
Rhonda Soikowski found that despite all the stylized melodrama and the decades that separate us from the pre-Stonewall era, Beebo’s story resonates with today’s lesbians stronger than ever:
“I am a lesbian. I’ve been out for about 24 years to myself. Most of the experiences that the women have in this play I have experienced. And it wasn’t the 50s when I was experiencing them. This suppression, this self-oppression is still happening right now. With a period or a heightened pulp theater piece that seems so distant, that has a very clear container but is also very other from oneself, it’s so much easier to gauge the distance between and really emphasize with that and find the truth of the now in it. Easier, I think, than when it is so close to the meshy border of your own soul. You’re like – I don’t know where my story begins and this one ends. I think I can see myself more clearly in something as heightened as this.” Rhonda Soikowski
“The Beebo Brinker Chronicles” by playwrights Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman is playing Sept 15 – Oct 9, 2011, Thursdays through Sundays, at 7:30 pm at Re-bar (1015 Howell St., Seattle WA).
There is a pay-what-you-can preview on Wednesday, Sept 14 at 7:30 pm.
You can even catch Ann Bannon at the opening night reception on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Available through Brown Paper at 800-838-3006, the tickets are $18-$25: www.brownpapertickets.com. The show is so sizzling hot, it’s 21+ (well, that and Re-bar serves alcohol).
“Wes Hurley is a filmmaker/performer who loves Seattle, animals and Eric Balfour. He recently completed his first narrative feature “Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel” starring Waxie Moon, Sarah Rudinoff, Marya Sea Kaminski, John Osebold, Nick Garrison and many other super talented Seattle performers, with music by Campfire OK, Eric Lane Barnes, Jose Bold and We Are Golden.”