Steamy, sultry and sexy, Kutumba Theatre Project’s production of The Beebo Brinker Chronicles is a kitschy flashback to the closeted pre-Stonewall world of lesbians and gay men.
The play, by Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman, is based on six lesbian novels by Ann Bannon, published between 1957 and 1962. The novels deal with sexual identity and ostracism from society and was somewhat based on the author’s own life. Bannon created one of the most enduring characters of lesbian lit, Beebo Brinker (played here by Niki Fridh) which became the archetypal butch.
The plot centers on Laura and Beth, (Blaze Powers and Sandi M. Stock) two sorority sisters who share the love that dare not speak its name. Laura sets out for New York hoping her lover will join her, but Beth opts instead for a conventional, safe marriage.
The story then splits into two time periods. Laura is in Greenwich Village a month later, lusting after her straight roommate Marcie (Christina Groom), pining for Beth and falling into Beebo Brinker’s bed and heart. Beth’s story resumes in California in 1960, where she’s miserable and frustrated doing the wife and mom act, missing Laura and wondering about the life she might have if she could only be honest. Later, the two words collide when Beth leaves her husband and children and goes to New York in search of Laura, whose life has taken a surprising turn.
Under Kim Ehly’s direction, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles sizzles with sex, excitement and film noir naughtiness. Tyler K. Smith’s scenic design uses only shades of gray, playing up both the 1950s’ B-movie era and the shadows that gay people were forced to inhabit. In contrast, the colorful costume design by Ehly and Melanie Garbo underlines the characters’ need to bust out of the constraints of their societal circumstance. The clever sound design, by Nicole Stodard and David Hart, is filled with ironic sound bites from songs of the era that underscore the emotion and provide a wink to the audience.
As Beebo, Fridh’s sexy swagger and seductive voice could make a straight girl wonder how the other half loves. Powers’ performance makes Laura’s journey from wide-eyed wonder to jaded wisdom believable. Groom plays several roles, and gets laughs in all of them.
With lots of pulp and plenty of juice, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles is delightfully satisfying, but still has the potency to whet other appetites.
The Beebo Brinker Chronicles runs through September 29 at the Galleria Studio Theatre, located inside the mall on Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and more information, call 954-646-1000 or visit BrownPaperTickets.com.