‘You’re a walking profanity! You’re a mockery of womanhood. You’re queer. Queer!” Those cruel lines from Ann Bannon’s 1959 novel I Am a Woman don’t appear in Hourglass Group’s The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, a breezy adaptation of three Bannon novels. Playwrights Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman have brought these groundbreaking pulp classics to the stage, but in their hurry to condense the trilogy into a brief play, they’ve rubbed away most of the book’s sharper edges and amped up their camp content.
The novels track the Greenwich Village amours of butch Beebo (Anna Foss Wilson), femme Laura (Marin Ireland), gay Jack (David Greenspan), and Laura’s college love Beth (Autumn Dornfeld), now lost to marriage. In an interview with The New York Times, the play’s director, Leigh Silverman, insisted she wouldn’t aim for the outré or kitsch: “It felt to me the audience would feel more delight the straighter we play it, so to speak.” But despite these excellent intentions, the shoehorning of 600 plot-heavy pages into 90 minutes makes for an overheated, if enjoyable, evening. The playwrights’ version insists that Laura is nearly always hysterical, Beth always in a marital spat, Jack and Beebo ever ready with a quip or a come-on.
If Bannon won praise for resisting homosexual stereotypes and crafting nuanced characters, the play somewhat reverses this trend. Most of the actors attempt a degree of naturalism, but lines such as “They’re not ladies, they’re lezzies” make it difficult. (Carolyn Baeumler, playing three busty vamps, hasn’t received the “anti-camp” directive and has terrific fun.) Rachel Hauck’s simple set and Nicole Pearce’s shadowy lights are spare and tidy, while Theresa Squire’s droll costumes—featuring Easter-egg-colored slips—are much more exuberant. If The Beebo Brinker Chronicles doesn’t succeed in playing it straight, its fervid portrait of the ’50s Village does offer a gay old time.