Beebo Brinker Chronicles' explores gender and identity

Posted by Michelle Minick

Nestled in the intimate (even more intimate than the Blackbox) Studio A, in the Janet Kinghorn Bernhardt Theater, the college's Theater Department presented the student workshop, "The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" from March 23 to 25.

Zoe Johannes '11 directed this noteworthy and provocative play written by Kate Moria Ryan and Linda S. Chapman, which was adapted from Ann Bannon's series of pulp fiction novels.

Set mainly in Greenwich Village during the 1950s, the play deals with the dual reality of homosexual men and women living half of their lives in a closeted world and the other half searching for an honest open home.

As soon as the audience set a foot in the studio, the simple set and the early rockabilly sounds from the 1950s immediately set the tone for the evening. The play was set in the 1950s and the costumes looked as though they came directly off of the set of "Mad Men."

Since the play was located in both a California suburb and New York City, it made sense that the set was so minimal because the play was constantly switching back and forth between the two locations.

The majority of the scenes took place in either the barroom or the bedroom, and for the gay and lesbian characters of the play, these places represented a world where they can be who they want to be, rather than who they are expected to be in reality.

This concept is analogous to the author, Ann Bannon's experience, who wrote these stories as a California housewife, thinking longingly of the life she wanted to live.

The lights, designed by Marcus Goldbas '13, were very simple, and the limited use of lighting instruments provided a nominal, yet an old-time effect, which achieved visual precision that was synonymous with the time period.

"The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" explores a wide array of eclectic and subversive topics and the motley cast of six did an excellent job of conveying these challenging and mature themes.

The audience enters the world through the perspective of Laura Landon (Emery Matson '14), a recent college graduate whose first gay relationship was with a sorority sister, Beth Ayres (Nikki Siclare '13), which ended in heartbreak with Beth's marriage to Charlie Ayres (Lowell Glovsky '14).

Devastated and left to struggle with her identity, Laura moves to Greenwich Village, where she meets a colorful cast of characters, including her flirtatious roommate Marcie (Skye Van Rensselaer '13), Jack Mann (Connor Mullen '14), a witty and flamboyant gay man who lives a closeted life by day and Beebo Brinker (Emma Johnstone '14), a butch, magnetic bartender, who walked with a slight swagger with her hands thrust in her pockets.

Beebo is also smooth and handsome and has a complex relationship with Laura throughout the play. To further express the concept of the dual realities, Laura is ushered into a more open world in the gay community of New York City, while Beth struggles with her unhappy marriage in California.

As the play unfolds, the audience follows the two women on their separate, but parallel individual journeys.

Throughout this drama, Laura and Beth's stories are linked by the recurring motif of lesbian pulp novels, a source of strength and escape for both women.

"The Beebo Brinker Chronicles" aggressively pursues laughs, playing with the novels' more dated and histrionic elements, yet it doesn't settle for caricature of the characters.

The loneliness cavernous beneath Jack's worldly façade, Laura's desperation for fulfillment and Beebo's jealous rages are all complex emotions that darkly edge the play's absurdities, anchoring what could easily have been an exercise in faction.

Through the combination of the directing and acting and through the personal portrayals of Lowell's imploring character, Siclaire's vulnerability, Matson's ability to shift emotions quickly, Mullen's demonstration of a hilarious and precise gay best friend, Van Rensselaer's flirtatious and deceitful behavior and Johnstone's smooth and sharp innuendo all synthesized together and created a cauldron of a provocative and powerful performance.

"The Beebo Brinker Chronicles posed a serious question: is love worth pursuing if it comes at the cost of social scorn, inner pain and turmoil?

In the fraught, socially closed world inhabited by the characters, the pursuit of true love is something dangerous, not just on a personal level, but on a societal level as well. And for some of the characters, the cost is too much in the end.

Yet, there is also a hopeful note: even when there's no reason to hope for the best or for a brighter future, people always will continue to be optimistic. It is a message that reverberates still.

In a society that is far more open-minded than it was in the 1950s, there is still work in progress. It is a fitting message for a college theatrical workshop that stubbornly hopes to reflect its message to the world at large.

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