Monday, December 03, 2007
‘PULP,’ a reliving of lesbian fiction of the 1950s, gets a good production at CPT
‘PULP,’ now making its Ohio and regional debut at Cleveland Public Theatre, is a parody of lurid lesbian fiction of the 1950s which centered on the “love that dare not speak its name.” The script, which was written by Patricia Kane, concentrates on the themes of many of those fictions novels: the outsider, the tough broad, the siren and the hyper-sexuality of a renegade sub-society, all of which take place in a gritty urban setting.
The play’s outsider is Terry Logan, a butch woman from Texas, just discharged from the Women's Army Corps. On a train bound for Chicago during a hot summer in 1956, she meets Pepper who figures out that Terry is a kindred spirit and invites her to The Well, a Chicago (gritty urban setting) lesbian nightclub where she works. The club, which features drag performances (women dressing as men) is owned by Ms. Warren, the ice princess (the siren). Terry lets her libido draw her initially to Eva (the hypersexual). As a plot developing device, several other characters have hidden or misguided loves, but by the time the lights go out after 90-minutes of sexual innuendos, sexual explicity, and sexual trysts, three couples have been formed and, if fairy tale endings are your thing, you’ll accept that they will live happily ever after.
An original score of period-sounding songs, with music by Andre Pluess and Warren, are performed with various degrees of proficiency as nightclub numbers. The score sounds familiar, but careful listening will reveal, like pulp novels, that the songs contain strong, overly ripe lyrics. Lyrics like, "Lips that taste of tears lose their taste for kissing."
The script, which is a combination of melodrama, farce and musical review, lends itself to an over-the-top production. How can a play which repeats and repeats and repeats the line, "I'm a lesbian plain and simple. I don't make any bones about it," be done seriously?
Fortunately, for those who will venture to CPT, director Scott Plate uses asides, over-exaggeration and physical underscoring to accomplish the generally well-done production.
Plate keeps the goings centered. The laughs come from the overdrawn characters and the way they are over-played. The cast, with the exception of Maggie Arndt (Terry), are excellent. Arndt is not macho enough, not sure enough, not cocky enough to make us believers. She has an underbelly of vulnerability that is off-setting. Her singing also leaves much to be desired.
Sheffia Randall Dooley, the only Equity member of the cast, and purely the audience favorite, overdoes the role of Eva/Bing, with appealing certainty. She effectively wails her musical vocals.
Allison Garrigan as bar owner Viviane, develops a clear and convincing character as the rigid appearing ice princess. Her opening musical number sets the right mood for what’s to come.
Kimberly Lauren Koljat is consummately sweet as the bartender who befriends Terry. Her crush on Sarge/Winny, one of the drag entertainers who is also an excellent marksman (hey, what did you expect, this is a lesbian-centered script), is tenderly developed. Elizabeth Wood is convincing as Sarge/Winny.
Butch Marshall, the Music Director, plays one mean piano to back up the cross-dressing devas.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: CPT’S ‘PULP’ takes an appropriately contrived script, and makes it into a well planned over-the-top production that generally works well, in spite of a weakly portrayed linchpin character. Will non-lesbian audience members enjoy the show? The very conservative will not. They will probably be uncomfortable with all the same-sex kissing and touching and sexual innuendos. Those of the more liberal ilk probably will appreciate the cleverness for what they see and hear.