It’s hard to know exactly what playwrights Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman had in mind in dramatizing three of Ann Bannon’s lesbian pulp novels, given the scattered vision presented by artistic director Raelle Myrick-Hodges in Brava Theatre’s West Coast premiere. (The play was first staged in New York in 2007, produced by Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner in its second run there.)
The playwrights likely intended a sort of fun, campy and deeply sympathetic look at the gay community in pre-Stonewall Greenwich Village.
You can tell that by the text, which, with some narration voiced-over and some sporadically spoken by the characters themselves, includes the corny clichés and hyperbole of pulp fiction but also heartfelt and honestly emotional dialogue.
And there’s clearly an audience for this potentially entertaining material, no matter the presentation. Opening-night attendees, mostly women, hooted, giggled, gasped and murmured appreciatively over the antics of quasi-innocent Laura, who arrives in the big city in the early 1960s, devastated by the loss of her college girlfriend, Beth (who married), and looking for lesbian love.
Many of the characters are paper-thin cartoons, played broadly and without nuance (although Khamara Pettus’ softcore porn author is hilarious).
Those who aren’t meant to be one-dimensional — such as Laura (Kewpie-doll-gorgeous redhead Summer Serafin); hard-drinking, sexy-smooth butch Beebo (Erin Maxwell); cynical, self-hating gay Jack (a one-note Michael Medici); or deeply conflicted Beth (nicely portrayed by Jayne Deely) and her hapless husband (a deafeningly loud Adam Yazbeck) — are often saddled with big changes of motivation and behavior that neither actors nor director have figured out how to finesse.
It doesn’t help that the characters leap through time in startling ways.
A musical ensemble — bass, keyboard, electric guitar, sax and chanteuse, in an elevated rear-center cage — provide 1960s-era popular songs (Beatles, Patsy Cline, Motown and more) that enhance mood and action to good effect.
But even that’s problematic, with too many patterned panels that rise and fall jerkily (at least on opening night) throughout the play, sometimes obscuring the singer as she’s warbling. And the cumbersome scene changes themselves are distracting and quite unnecessary.
The ultimate problem, though, is the production’s inconsistent tone and uneven acting, which ultimately deprives us of the opportunity to truly empathize with the plight of any of these troubled characters.
The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
Presented by Brava! For Women in the Arts
Where: 2789 24th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes March 13
Contact: (415) 641-2822, www.brava.org
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