Scene: New York

 
 

Scene 6: Yo Majesty
Knitting Factory, Sept. 27

New York may be one of the safest big cities in the country, but as real locals know, a woman should carefully consider whether to walk alone through any desolate stretch of pavement, park or pier after dark.

As I stepped solo toward Leonard Street in Tribeca around midnight, however, I felt especially safe, and wondered whether it related to the warm lights of a nearby film shoot. Then I realized the feeling could be traced to my messenger bag, sensible shoes and blue T-shirt — I was dressed like Jodie Foster’s vigilante character in The Brave One, which provided the false confidence that I could simply destroy anyone who dared mess with me.

Still, I would have been no match for the women of Yo Majesty, the tough lesbian emcees from Tampa, Fla., who performed that night at the Knitting Factory. This up-and-coming duo (who were formerly a trio) of unabashed butches walloped the delighted crowd of early adopters with their blend of old school hip-hop and contemporary electro beats.

Although they have yet to release an album, sonic gems like "Club Action" and "Kryptonite Pussy," which they rapped over Salt-N-Pepa’s classic "Push It," already have generated significant buzz and point toward a royal future for this group.

As for me, two consecutive nights of beer and naughty rhymes suggests some kind of cleansing is in order.

Scene 7: The Beebo Brinker Chronicles
Fourth Street Theatre, Sept. 30

Welcome to the drama of the theater world, where rivers of applause flow more often toward gay men than lesbians. Too often, lesbian stage endeavors find themselves dry of funds, promotional support and, by consequence, audiences.

Given this unfortunate fact, the success of The Beebo Brinker Chronicles — a thoroughly lesbian, off-Broadway production now playing at the Fourth Street Theatre in the East Village — is all the more deserving of praise.

Adapted from the groundbreaking series of five lesbian pulp novels written by Ann Bannon and originally published from 1957–62, the stage version was written by Kate Moira Ryan, who authored comedian Judy Gold‘s award-winning, off-Broadway play, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, and Linda Chapman, one of the founding producers of Dyke TV. Leigh Silverman, who brought Lisa Kron’s Well to Broadway last year, directs.

Set in Greenwich Village during the closeted and dangerous McCarthy era, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles follows prototypical butch lesbian Beebo Brinker, played handsomely by Anna Wilson. She and her circle of femmes and fags inhabit smoky underground bars and cheap, spacious apartments awash in liquor, lust and the distinctly neurotic patterns of lavender love.

Ann Bannon herself implied that lesbian romance is endearingly kooky when she spoke after the Sunday matinee preview of The Beebo Brinker Chronicles. Introduced by interviewer Kurt Brokaw as "the queen of lesbian pulp fiction," the 75-year-old novelist fielded questions from a number of contemporaries in the crowd.

Brokaw (left) and Bannon

"Where does the idea of Beebo come from?" someone wanted to know. Bannon replied that the character, described in the novels as a striking Wisconsin transplant, was "half fantasy, and one quarter Ingrid Bergman and one quarter Johnny Weissmuller."

Much conversation concerned how books in the series, such as Odd Girl Out, the second-best-selling paperback original of 1957, served a vital networking purpose for lesbians in an otherwise isolated time. Remarkably, the characters endured as models for personalities and behavior in the lesbian community.

Bannon mentioned that when she served as associate dean of arts and sciences at Sacramento State University years afterward, "Every now and then a student would come in with a bouquet of flowers and say, ‘I just found out who you are.’"

Eventually, someone asked how Beebo would be updated for today’s readers. Bannon replied that she has chosen not to develop Beebo that way right now, largely because she wants to devote her attention to a memoir of her writing years. Then, she was a married mother of two in Philadelphia who took trips to New York that inspired her to write.

Just look at what this town does to women!

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