Richmond Triangle Players begins their 18th season of theatre in their recently renovated home in Scott’s Addition with the compelling and entertaining The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. The play was adapted by Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman from a series of lesbian pulp novels published by Ann Bannon in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The novels have remained cult classics, but Ryan and Chapman do a remarkable job of freshening the story for a contemporary audience.
A Sordid Plot
While Beebo is the nexus of BBC, the story revolves around coming out stories of Beth and Laura, one-time lovers who spend the subsequent decade in the shadow of their unrequited love. Beth got married, had children, and was miserable all the while. The more courageous Laura went off to New York to find herself and to chase shadows of love. The play also serves as an apocatastasis for the pre-Stonewall Greenwich Village queer scene and a resonator for the experiences of queer stories even today.
The Great Director
The success of RTP’s production of BBC can largely be attributed to the excellent direction of Noreen C. Barnes, Director of Graduate Studies in Theater at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is able to knit the fine strands of pulp, parody, and poignancy, now letting a little more of this show through, then a little more of that, never wholly losing any of the threads. No doubt some of this success is owing to a tight, powerful, and witty script. John Knapp’s superior set design, with appropriate costume, lighting, and sound design (Derin White, K. Jenna Ferree, and Lucian Restivo) and capable performances by the cast, enable Barnes to make it all gel.
The show runs at a lively clip, with several distinct spaces on the stage sometimes used for overlapping scenes, but it is never chaotic and rarely distracting. The second act is a bit less snappy than the first, partially because of the arc of the plot and partially because the performers’ energy isn’t quite as high. Even so, in Act Two it’s remarkable how these players successfully communicate the maturation of their characters over a decade.
Amellio Does the Heavy Lifting
Although Beebo is the title character, and the plot alternately traces the divergent lives of Beth and Laura, it is Justin Amellio as Jack, friend to almost all the characters and marriage of convenience partner to one of them, who delivers the most memorable performance and serves as the touchstone for the cast and the audience.
Melissa Carroll Jackson plays three minor characters, but her diverse renderings are some of the funniest and are always compelling. Heather Falks’ Beth is a suitably Midwestern miserable housewife, but Kerry McGee as Laura provides more flashes of power. While Emma Mason is serviceable as Beebo, she is not quite able to justify being named the title character. Matt Hackman (Charlie and also Burr) evokes our empathy for a man who loved truly but was not truly loved in return. As a troupe, the performers work very well together, and they excel in the projection of meaningful looks to each other and to the fourth wall of the stage.
The Bare Facts
Over the years a bit of nudity has not been an unfamiliar sight on RTP stages. In this production, it’s interesting that BBC offers an early look at Hackman’s bare backside, but the only nakedness of the female characters is of arms, legs, and spines. Perhaps Barnes wanted a relatively clean production, but why the naked guy and not naked ladies?
Live the Love, Ladies
An additional curiosity had to do with the audience. Although BBC is a sincere and loving homage to lesbian pulp fiction, very few women attended opening night. RTP has always had a larger male following and more male-centered productions than female, but one hopes the community would show a bit more sister love, especially for such an excellent show.
The Beebo Brinker Chronicles runs through October 9. For tickets and showtimes, visit rtriangle.org. Photo by John MacLellan
Carter S Grove, formerly with The Virginia Flame and GayRichmond.com, has been reviewing Richmond theater for over a decade.
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