As the success of "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove" and the number of lesbian-themed plays at the recent Fringe Festival reminded us, the 1980s will probably be remembered as the decade when lesbian drama came out of the closet. Gay theater, heretofore the domain of male playwrights, is finally coming around to acknowledging gay women.
Much of the credit for this goes to Theater Rhinoceros in San Francisco, which dispatched some of its lesbian plays to the Fringe and which originally produced one called "Wait for the Beep," reopening Friday at the Fifth Estate Theater.
It's a pretty good production--staged and written with sufficient comedic skill to dramatize adolescent female masturbation, for instance, without demeaning either the character or the play. That's quite an achievement. What's also refreshing about "Beep" is that it is basically a comedy and highly accessible to heterosexual audiences--much the way the breakthrough "Boys in the Band," about male gays, was to mainstream audiences in 1968.
"Wait for the Beep" is no breakthrough play. It's not cohesive or corrosive enough for that. And it suffers from a despairing ending and an uneven mixture of melodrama and comedy that neither playwright Margery Kreitman nor director Smitty (of the single moniker) can resolve. But like Mart Crowley's "Boys in the Band," this "Beep" is never dissembling or ambivalent.
As in the Crowley play, writer Kreitman uses the same comforting camaraderie of a gay circle seen from within, draws upon its own female butch character (Tami Lunt, in chains) and concludes with an outsider/heterosexual character who riotously flips out ("You're all sickos!") in the production's richest performance (by Melissa Dingwell).
The production, with an accommodating non-credited two-level set, segues between characters seen as teen-agers and adults. Denise McCanles' central figure, a lesbian striving to endure society's image of her, is cleverly counterpointed by Kimberly Kleiman in a strong turn as her tomboyish teen self.
Jamie Leigh Allen's unglued Jewish mother, Trish Haight's feminine lesbian lover and Tracy Royce's goldilocked/barely straight teen-age tease who's into naughty games complete the seven-member cast.
Performances resume Friday at 1707 N. Kenmore Ave., 8:30 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $10; (213) 666-0434.