April 1, 2008

Theater Review: The girls in the sand

Pandora Productions present Jane Chambers’ “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” through April 13 at the Bunbury Theatre, 604 S. Third St. Directed by Michael Drury. Call 216-5502 or visit www.PandoraProds.org.)Sometimes a play doesn’t have to beat you over the head with an overt message to be topical. It can simply be a snapshot of how things once were, even if that snapshot has faded slightly with the passage of time. “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” is a great example of how to do that, and do it right.We live in slightly more enlightened times than the late ’70s, when Jane Chambers wrote the play. While some of the cultural references and jokes are quite dated (especially regarding lesbian-feminist issues), the play is a reminder of the struggles faced by the second-wave feminist and gay liberation movements.First performed in 1980, “Bluefish Cove” was a landmark in that it showed lesbians as ordinary people — not suicidal and self-loathing like the women in “The Children’s Hour.” Even though this play deals with lesbian issues, it doesn’t wear its orientation on its sleeve.Here, seven women from all walks of life meet every summer at a seaside retreat, where they do what anyone else does at the shore — go fishing, drink beer, lay out in the sun, have parties, fall in love. The group is a family, and like all families, they sometimes bicker. But when push comes to shove, they support each other.  It may seem slightly improbable that Eva, a recently separated “straight” woman who is just becoming aware of feminism, would fall in love so quickly with Lil, the only single woman on the beach. But during the 1970s, lesbianism was the logical choice for true radical feminists, as exemplified by poet Adrienne Rich. By the end of the show, we’d all fallen in love with Jessica Scharff’s Lil, the self-described “independent dyke” who hates to lose — whether it be a bluefish or a poker game. Scharff plays her role so definitively that I can’t imagine any other actor as Lil now.The impressive set realistically depicts the ocean shoreline with a beach house on the water’s edge. Sounds of the ocean, while perhaps a bit too loud at times, add to the beach experience. Director Michael Drury assembled the perfect cast for this production. Despite the large ensemble, each woman makes her part memorable, and no character seems superfluous. Raquel Cecil is particularly impressive as Eva during her clumsy attempt to satisfy her bi-curiosity and seduce Lil. Anne Marie Alexander (Sue) and Erin McGuire (Rita) are also standouts, breathing realism into sometimes-unlikely dialogue. In the wrong hands, the whole thing could have easily come off like a Sapphic soap opera, but Pandora Productions has scored one of its biggest creative successes yet with this moving, unforgettable production. Don’t miss it! Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com