Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Secretaries (Cleveland Public Theatre)

‘THE SECRETARIES’--good production, qualities, bad play at CPT

Every once in a while I see a theatrical production that evokes many questions. The Five Lesbian Brothers’ play ‘THE SECRETARIES,’ now on stage at Cleveland Public Theatre is such an offering. As I watched the play, and on the way home, I was filled with inquiries. My mind probed to find answers to “Why did CPT pick such a script?” “What inspired the authors to write such a piece?” “Why would a talented cast and an equally talented director want to spend their time presenting that material to an audience?”

As you can tell, I am not a big fan of the play. In fact, I come close to agreeing with a fellow playgoer who stated on the way out, “That was the worst play I’ve ever seen.” Well, not quite the worst play, because the production was actually quite good, but it did come close to being one of the worst scripts. I’m not alone in that opinion. A New York review stated that the play grossed out the audience within the first five minutes of the show.

Who are the Five Lesbian Brothers? They are Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, and Lisa Kron, a group of actresses and playwrights . Their stated purpose in writing and performing is to promote affirmation of lesbianism through hilarious plays.

Before I go any further....the play did win the Obie Award in 1995. I’m not sure what the criteria or the competition was, but there must have been something that brought about that recognition. So, I turned to an expert on the subject. A Cornell University Professor who used the play as part of her dissertation on the radical lesbian movement may have some clues. She indicates that “by focusing on violent acts perpetrated by women, rather than violent acts suffered by or inflicted upon women, this work examines the ways in which bodily injury serves as both an indicator of and a response to political and institutionalized oppression.”

She comments that “The Five Lesbian Brothers’ ‘SECRETARIES’ underscores the fact that terrorism is primarily an aesthetic phenomenon, a political performance, and that the most powerful weapon is “camp.” From their sexy publicity posters, such as the bikini-clad, gun toting, afro-sporting “We Recruit” revolutionary, to their mass public kiss-ins, the Lesbian Avengers understand the erotics of resistance.”

Randy Rollison and his cast all do their best with what they’ve got. Rollison paces the production well, has his characters go over the top in order to wring all the intended comedy and pathos from the script.

Ali Hernan makes for one wicked tyrant, complete with costumes right out of the Victoria Secrets meets porno leather shop. Liz Conway transforms from sweet innocent to blood thirsty monster with a vengeance. Meg Chamberlain’s portrayal of a lesbian and a lumberjack were convincing. Sheffia Randall plots and schemes with purpose. Denise Astorino chows down like food is going out of fashion.

Trad Burns scenic and light designs are excellent, Esther Montgomery’s costumes help create the proper images.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: My hang-up with the play is not the lesbian activity, the simulated sex or subject matter. The bottom line is I found the script neither funny nor edifying. The tepid applause at the conclusion of the production seemed to indicate the audience was watching with the same eyes as I was, but maybe you might not.