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The Beebo Brinker Chronicles

This delightful adaptation of Ann Bannon's 1950s lesbian pulp novels is both playful and sincere.

By New York City
Marin Ireland and Anna Foss Wilson
in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
(© Dixie Sheridan)
Marin Ireland and Anna Foss Wilson
in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
(© Dixie Sheridan)
Adapted from a series of 1950s lesbian pulp novels by Ann Bannon, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, now at the 4th Street Theatre, manages to strike just the right tone of playful sincerity. Skillfully directed by Leigh Silverman, Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman's script contains plenty of humor, which occasionally comes across as campy and over-the-top, but always in an affectionate manner that pays tribute to the source material without mocking it.

Bannon wrote six books altogether, and Ryan and Chapman have specifically drawn from I Am a Woman, Women in the Shadows, and Journey to a Woman for their delightful play, which spans the years 1952-1960. However, the work is easily accessible, whether you've read the novels or not.

The piece follows Laura (Marin Ireland) and Beth (Autumn Dornfeld), who were lovers in college, but whose lives diverge once Beth decides to settle down and marry Charlie (Bill Dawes). Laura then moves to New York, where her circle of friends comes to include her roommate Marcie (Carolyn Baeumler), gay man about town Jack (David Greenspan), and the butch Beebo Brinker (Anna Foss Wilson). Passionate sex, broken hearts, and a bit of bed hopping ensues prior to the inevitable reunion between Laura and Beth, which doesn't go exactly as planned.

The production is blessed with a terrific ensemble cast. Ireland exposes Laura's fragile vulnerability early in the play, gradually transforming her persona into a harder-edged, more mature woman who has gone through a lot of heartache and is less trusting and forgiving as a result. Dornfeld scores a number of deserved laughs for her portrayal of the frustrated Beth, yet, she is also capable of playing the character's more serious scenes with equal aplomb.

As the title character, Wilson has Beebo's confident swagger down pat while maintaining an edge to her performance that makes a sudden, violent fit of rage both believable and frightening. Greenspan is utter perfection as the wisecracking Jack, whose own romantic heartbreaks lead him to make a rather unconventional proposal. Dawes and Baeumler, who play a number of smaller roles, do a great job as well.

Ryan and Chapman's adaptation doesn't shy away from depicting a great deal of internalized homophobia, and the resulting shame and cruelty that can result from it. In that, it stays true to both the novels and the pre-Stonewall era that they depict. Yet, the play also displays the genuine warmth and love these characters have for one another and the sense of freedom and pleasure that they find in their same-sex romances.

The production incorporates stylized narration of excerpts from Bannon's novels, as well as more conventional dialogue scenes. The pacing is crisp, the love scenes steamy, and the comic timing brilliantly realized.


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