Beebo Brinker Chronicles
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
March 2, 2008
I did not catch Beebo in its initial hit run at the Fourth Street Theater. I saw it with fresh eyes in its new incarnation at the bigger off-Broadway venue, 37 Arts. And while I was entertained by most everything about it—the style, the actors, the story—I left the theatre feeling slightly less than satisfied.
The biggest reason for my lack of satiety was the absence of the breathy urgency and downright camp often associated with 1950s pulp. Director Leigh Silverman keeps the cast playing largely close to the bone and while there is a certain level of realism achieved, there is an opportunity to let loose and sell it that was missed. With a bang-up cast that certainly could have walked the tight line between spot-on camp and excessive vamp, this choice kept the show unfortunately flat.
Which isn't to say that it still doesn't have its moments. The whole team does great justice to the original Ann Bannon novels, and a palpable sense of titillation coarsed through the audience when the titular Beebo (Jenn Colella with a rough-edged boyish charm), the personification of a gateway drug into lesbian life in 1950s Greenwich Village, has her way with the ladies of her choice. And she chooses Laura (the wide-eyed and charming Marin Ireland), a fresh-faced newbie, or so it seems. Yet Laura pines for her sorority-sister first love Beth (a solid Autumn Dornfeld) who has sadly opted for a square suburban life in the 'burbs with her dull dull dull husband Charlie (the hunky-yet-necessarily-square Bill Dawes) and requisite two kids.
And all eyes are on David Greenspan any time he strolls on stage as cool cat Jack Mann. Bordering on a mid-Atlantic accent, he pulls off the language and the swagger of the period with a seemingly effortless ease. The cast is rounded out with the excellent Carolyn Baeumler, who does great work as a number of brassy dames, including Laura's "straight" roommate Marcie.
Another oddity of the production is that the gorgeous 37 Arts space completely dwarfs Rachel Hauck's super-functional-yet-built-for-a-black-box set. Charlie and Beth's marital bed (which is also the setting for the girl-on-girl action in Laura's city apartment) tucks neatly and expeditiously into the platform that is the entrance to the bar and a nice elevated surface for some great private moments, as well as Beebo's place. A lot happens on this space. This single space. Alone in the center of the stage. It feels like the set was picked up from its off-off Broadway origins and plunked down off-Broadway without spreading out and re-sizing for its new and gigantic space. It is neat and tidy at the expense of really serving as a launch pad for action.
Ultimately, though, this is a solid show—a fun story that stays true to the original and really lands with its audience. I just wish they had let loose a little more—I think Beebo and her babes could really rock in fifth gear.