Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, and Lisa Kron in Oedipus at Palm Springs

(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, Maureen Angelos,
Babs Davy, and Lisa Kron in
Oedipus at Palm Springs
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
An early work by The Five Lesbian Brothers was called Brave Smiles...Another Lesbian Tragedy. That title also aptly describes the all-female company's latest endeavor, Oedipus at Palm Springs. The Brothers, founded in 1989 and devoted to producing work with a decidedly queer twist, have been absent from the theater scene for the last six years but now make a stunning comeback with this show. It's a re-working of the Oedipus myth that is both funny and tragic, inspiring pity, fear -- and a lot of laughter.

Oedipus at Palm Springs was written by four of the Brothers: Maureen Angelos, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, and Lisa Kron. They're joined on stage by the fifth member of the troupe, Babs Davy, in the role of a blind prophet (think Tiresias) who manages an all-women desert resort. The plot centers around two lesbian couples. Con (Kron) and Fran (Angelos) have a long-term commitment and a three-year old son, but they haven't had sex for four years; they're trying to work out their intimacy issues by performing the exercises laid out for them by their couples therapist. Prin (Dibbell) and Terri (Healey), on the other hand, can't keep their hands off each other. Prin is ready to propose marriage to Terri, while the latter is still grieving for the woman who raised her and is anxious about finding her birth mother. All four women are friends and have come to the resort to celebrate Terri's birthday.

The play is a witty and incisive look at relationships that is sure to resonate with a number of audience members, regardless of their sexual orientation. The dialogue includes a number of memorable observations about motherhood, friendship, sex, and gender roles. One of my favorite lines is spoken by Prin, who tries to help her friends with their sexual dysfunction by encouraging them to embrace a butch/femme dynamic. "Your 1970s politically-correct-no-penetration-bullshit is just a fast track to lesbian bed death," she remarks.

The ensemble cast, directed with a sure hand by Leigh Silverman, is terrific. Kron is especially memorable as the neurotic and sexually frustrated Con. Angelos is quite funny as Fran, and Davy is an absolute hoot as the blind Joni. It falls to Dibbell and Healey to pull off the incredibly difficult task of shifting the play from raucous comedy to heart wrenching tragedy -- and, to their credit, they pull it off admirably.

The Brothers are well-supported by their design team. David Korins brilliantly captures the look of a fancy desert resort in a way that also mimics the setting of a traditional Greek tragedy; such extra touches as pink furniture and a heart-shaped ornament over the doorway give a whimsical air to the proceedings. Miranda Hoffman's costumes and Mary Louise Geiger's lighting are effective. John Gromada's sound design incorporates his own original music as well as popular tunes such as k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" to help set the mood.

Those who have seen the Brothers' previous theatrical work may be surprised by the more realistic mode of performance they employ here; there are far fewer obviously farcical moments, though there's still some satire sprinkled throughout. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone but the Five Lesbian Brothers performing this play. The actors' comfort with each other is obvious, as evidenced by the rather graphic sex scenes, which include full nudity. (This production is not for the prudish.) Oedipus at Palm Springs is a powerful work that marks an evolution in the Brothers' style. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another six years before the company graces the stage again.