This month the stage adaptation
of Ann Bannon’s iconic and beloved lesbian pulp series, The Beebo Brinker
which debuted last fall at the Fourth Street Theater in New York, moves to Off Broadway for a
10-week run, with previews beginning Feb. 19. Given the rarity of lesbian-themed
theater, the play’s success so far has been particularly
Out playwrights Linda
Chapman and Kate Moira Ryan and out director Leigh Silverman have been on a
mission, since 2001, to adapt classic lesbian fiction for the stage. They
picked Bannon’s pulp novels for their debut. "There’s something in Ann’s
writing; she captures something very, very, very, truthful about lesbian
relationships — and about all kinds of emotional relationships, really. Because
she touches on everything," said Chapman.
Left to right: Linda Chapman, Leigh Silverman and Kate Moira Ryan
The Beebo Brinker
Chronicles takes characters and stories from three Bannon novels set in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 1960s. The play
follows Laura (Marin Ireland) and Beth (Autumn Dornfeld), former sorority
sisters and ex-lovers, as they endure the repercussions of Beth’s conformist
decision to dump Laura in order to marry a man, and Laura’s courageous decision
to forgo marriage and move to New York City.
Housewife Beth suffers in
her unsatisfying marriage, while Laura faces challenges living as a lesbian in
the 1950s — including a passionately violent relationship with sexy butch Beebo
Brinker (Jenn Colella), and a platonic marriage to a gay man, Jack (David
Friends for nearly 20
years, Chapman and Ryan are the kind of collaborators who finish each other’s
sentences. Both have written acclaimed lesbian theater, most notably Ryan’s 25
Questions for a Jewish Mother (co-authored with lesbian comedian Judy Gold, now touring the United States) and Chapman’s Gertrude
and Alice: A Likeness to Loving (co-authored with her partner, Lola
Pashalinski, based on the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B.
Chapman said she and Ryan
began their research by rereading Bannon’s five novels, "breaking all
three books down like you would a script, into beats." Like a puzzle with
a variety of configurations, they moved the characters and story lines around,
rearranging the novels to find the right way to tell the story onstage.
The process took three
years, from obtaining the rights to the novels in 2002 to producing a
near-final version of the script in 2005.
In its final form, Beebo is an emotionally intense,
90-minute one-act play. It cleverly and
nonlinearly overlaps the stories from the novels, interweaving Laura’s arrival
in New York City (from the novel I Am a Woman) with Beth’s struggle 10
years later over whether to remain in her marriage or seek out Laura in New
York (from the novel Journey to a Woman).
According to Silverman,
who has directed two of the highest-profile lesbian-themed theater pieces in New York (Lisa Kron’s Well
on Broadway and the Five Lesbian Brothers’ Oedipus at Palm Springs), the
current one-act form is a drastic change from the initial draft. That version
was three acts long and covered many more characters and story lines.
"It felt to me sort
of like an endless melodrama," Silverman said. "It was like, we need
more, or we need a lot less. And we opted for a lot less."