The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 6, 2007
Alternative lifestyles get a fresh new look in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman's witty new adaptation of Ann Bannon's lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s and 1960s. Those, like me, who are unfamiliar with Bannon's cult fiction won't have any trouble enjoying Beebo Brinker. Hourglass Group's exemplary production underscores the fine line Ryan and Chapman's script walks between camp and melodrama while emphasizing the palpable fear of its characters, all of whom live in a time when homosexuality was considered a moral and social death sentence.
That time is 1950s America, the decade across which Beebo Brinker spans. Laura, a sensitive young Midwesterner, arrives in 1952 Greenwich Village to escape the heartache of a failed romance with her true love, Beth (who marries the steadfast Charlie, even though her heart belongs to Laura). Once in New York, the impressionable Laura befriends Jack, a jaded older gay man, crushes on her straight roommate, Marcie, and falls into the bed of the title character, an aggressive and brash butch lesbian who has slept with half the West Village it seems. Meanwhile, out in California, Beth is waging an internal war between her duty as a wife and mother (which she would like to walk away from) and her true nature (which she would finally like to give in to).
The most obvious feature of Beebo Brinker (and one of the most satisfying, as well) is the snappy dialogue, much of which is amusingly overheated. Take, for instance, Jack forcing Laura to accept the fact that Marcie will never return her feelings: "Marcie doesn't have the taste for bearded clam!" Or Jack's brief dissertation on what he perceives as the voracious sexual appetite of lesbians: ""That's the awful thing about lesbians: they have no discrimination." Beebo Brinker has a lot of fun sending up its denizens and itself. One character says of their favorite bar, "I go there alone when I want to be depressed." Later, another character with a quickly escalating disastrous domestic situation gets asked, "How's that car wreck at home piling up?"
But there are deeper, more substantive currents running through Beebo Brinker, namely everyone's frantic search for self and some sort of center to hold on to. Beth exemplifies this best, as she struggles to live up to society's idea of the perfect housewife. As Jack says, "If you're gay, you never find peace. You never find love." This sentiment is true for many of the characters here, but they keep looking just the same. "I'm always in love with someone. How about you?" Beebo says late in the play. Within the confines of 1950s conservatism, these characters torturously accept the fact that homosexuality is a highly frowned-upon taboo, but they still look for ways to make it work without hating themselves. Two of them come up with what must have been a radically revolutionary solution at the time (but, one that I won't spoil here).
Leigh Silverman's direction, coupled with Nicole Pearce's lighting, creates a moody, half-hidden world of secrecy, with broad strokes of screwball largesse peppered in. Everyone in the cast—Carolyn Baeumler, Bill Dawes, Autumn Dornfeld, David Greenspan, Marin Ireland, and Anna Foss Wilson—gives a standout performance, balancing the sincere and oversized aspects of the production beautifully.
As of this writing, Beebo Brinker has sold out the remainder of its run, and is now eyeing a well-deserved commercial Off-Broadway run. Whichever incarnation of it you're able to see, I highly recommend catching The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. With acting this good, humor this sharp, and a production this finely crafted, it would be a shame if you didn't.