The Lesbian Shuffle
Theatre Out's Small Domestic Acts is a (very) small step in the right direction
The gay community is hard to please. As made clear in umpteen drag-queen films and plays and by flitty-boy TV characters, one would think "the gays" are always happy, singing and wearing something sparkly—well, the men, anyway. The lesbians, of course, are either humorless "100-footers" (you can tell she's a lesbian from 100 feet away), or one of those more-media-palatable "straight" lesbians of the Girls Gone Wild kind who are only lesbians after a beer bong. In truth, the gay "community" is about as homogenous as the straight "community," with as many variations in look, color, economics and behavior. And because gay people are so varied and different, and because their real stories are still rarely found in the media, there's always some gay who's irked when he or she isn't represented when a story pops up.
Theatre Out's Small Domestic Acts, written by Joan Lipkin, tries to address this impending annoyance early on, offering a character's disclaimer that this story focuses on just one type of lesbian relationship. Unfortunately, it's the type of stereotypical lesbian relationship we've all seen before: heterosexual role-playing.
Frank and Sheila (David Beatty and Lori Kelley) are an oddly matched straight couple—he's a mechanic of some kind, she's rather sophisticated and pursuing a higher education—and their lesbian counterparts, Frankie and Sheila (MaryAnne Mosher and Katie Chidester), fall into the same roles. Both couples reluctantly decide to forge a friendship because Frank and Frankie work together . . . and, I guess, because there aren't any other people around to be friends with? Not likely. But when Frank and Frankie both wear flannel and have a penchant for beer-drinking, unemotional conversation and making lewd sexual remarks about their women, I pretty much went brain-dead. I also wondered if the playwright knows any lesbians; if she does, Lipkin should've known that "butch" women are often the more sensitive, nurturing and talkative of a butch/femme pair-up—not necessarily prone to fisticuffs or a Mars demeanor.
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Of course, Straight Sheila and Femme Sheila are both into self-improvement and talking about their feelings, and as the characters address the audience (they all acknowledge they've come here to tell us their story—though various members need coaxing throughout), we expect the obvious, since that's what we've already been given: Frankie and Straight Sheila will hook up. Thank the goddess Lipkin had an epiphany at this point, for the opposite happens: Sheila and Sheila end up in a tryst.
It's at this moment when the play finally touches on a subject that, while invisible to our media culture, is a story I bet every lesbian you meet can tell you about—the predatory straight woman. Indeed, when an unhappy, bi-curious straight gal meets a lesbian, it's usually she who pursues the easily enchanted lesbo, not the pulp-fiction-novel other way around.
Unfortunately, when Sheila and Sheila leave their masculine partners and create a life together that includes acquiring a baby, the play is over. It's a shame; this last element is the most original and interesting, one that's being lived daily by thousands of lesbians (at least the "pursuit of their own nuclear family" angle). And so, even though the actors were exceptionally good and the directing seamless, I was not entirely pleased. But that's to be expected from a humorless, easily annoyed lesbian—or so I've been told.
Small Domestic Acts, presented by Theatre Out, at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803; www.theatreout.com. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through July 13. $18.