It's the superficially idyllic 1950s in post-war Middle America. The role of women is to be decorative and do good works. Lesbianism does not exist (after all, Queen Victoria said so). The only dark cloud threatening this Eden is the Red Menace.
And so it is that we find ourselves, as members of the audience, among the invited guests at the annual quiche breakfast organized by the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein — hosted this year by Redwood Curtain Theatre, in the form of the theatre's latest production, Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood.
The officers of the society greet audience members as they enter the auditorium, handing out pre-printed name tags. No-one escapes, and one lucky guest will be assigned the role of the member who "fell from grace" (relax — no actual participation is required). The society's motto is "no men, no meat, all manners," and the rules of etiquette are fiercely enforced at the annual celebration of all things eggy.
But just as we're all settling into what seems to be simply a charming period piece, all hell (or perhaps that should be "heck"?) breaks loose when the atomic attack alert goes off, and the ladies' layers of polite social niceties gradually strip away. What follows involves various stages of undress, blood spattering on windows, ladies kissing, what can only be described as quiche porn, and a whole new role for the egg that I won't reveal here.
The eponymous lesbians (or "widows", as they are introduced to us) are well-cast, and each successfully develops her own distinct personality. Natasha White (most recently Lurene in Redwood Curtain's Last Gas) is wonderfully brittle and controlled as the perfectly-coiffed Wren Robin, the society's events chairwoman and chief orchestrator of the breakfast feast, who revels in her role as first quiche taster. Buildings and Grounds Chairman Veronica "Vern" Schultz is forcefully brought to life by Jo Kuzelka (Jo March in Ferndale Rep's Little Women: The Musical), as she proudly shows off all the security measures she's incorporated into the building — including enough food to feed all the society's members for four years (and, of course, chickens to provide those eggs).
Dale Prist (Jennifer Trustem, in her debut at Redwood Curtain) is delightful as the society's historian and designated event photographer who has not spoken to a man since she was 3 years old; she's also a closet athlete, which turns out to be something of a mixed blessing. Rose Andersen, also making her first appearance at Redwood Curtain, shows great comic timing as the enthusiastic and rather inept secretary Ginny Cadbury, although her English accent wobbles a little at times.
Rounding out the slate of officers is Megan Johnson (last seen at Redwood Curtain as Dolly in One Man, Two Guvnors) as the regal society president, Lulie Stanwyck. A stickler for procedure, she proudly leads the members in several rousing choruses of Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady to remind us just why the "all manners" part of the motto is so important.
Director Shea King builds on the skills evident in her directorial assistance on Redwood Curtain's masterful production of Equivocation last year, deftly developing these five very different characters and delivering humor and satire in equal measure. Hanah Toyoda's set design is a perfect re-creation of the environment in which a group of ladies with societal aspirations would have met in the 1950s, elegantly integrating the bomb shelter door into the salon atmosphere of the breakfast room. The pressed white table cloth, matching floral napkins and ladylike silverware are, of course, covered by a sheet of protective plastic.
Jared Sorenson's sound design is dramatic, pulling the audience inside the atomic alert, and his lighting is appropriately atmospheric. But the crowning glory of the production is the costume design by Bethany Lamoureux — stiff-skirted tea frocks, delicate gloves, perfectly polished shoes — all color-coordinated and keyed to the personality of each character.
Five Lesbians started life as a skit performed at the 2010 Sketchbook Festival, and graduated to a fully-fledged performance piece the following year. It's a droll little play that packs some serious punches into its 65 minutes — stressing not only how far we've come in 60 years, but also, in some ways, how little we have learned.
Oh, and take a look at the photograph on the wall of the set as you leave the theatre, purportedly a portrait of the society's founder, Lady Monmont. If you're a regular aficionado of the Humboldt theatre scene, her face will likely be familiar to you. It's a clever touch, and a welcome nod to a local theatrical talent.
Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through July 30. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.
Plays in the Park brings a wild, comic opera to Redwood Park starting July 15. Expect snake oil, romance and mistaken identity from Le Docteur Miracle. From July 15-30. Call 834-0861 or visit playsinthepark.net for more information.
From July 21 through Aug. 13, North Coast Repertory Theatre presents Moon over Buffalo, a backstage comedy about theater actors in a tizzy over a Hollywood director Frank Capra's visit to their show. All 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.