Real Women Eat Quiche

When you arrive at the humble Phoenix Theater, tucked away on the sixth floor of a building around the corner from American Conservatory Theater and the Curran Theatre, you’re given a nametag. You’re attending a meeting of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, and your tag indicates you’re just one of the ladies.

Larissa Archer (not actually in the show), Caitlin Evenson, Susan Shay, Sophia LaPaglia and Karina Wolfe in 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Photo by Michael David Rose.

It’s 1956, and the society is assembled for its annual quiche breakfast when—oh no!—there’s a nuclear attack. Good thing Vern, the new building and grounds chairman, took the precaution of turning the meeting hall into a bomb shelter. Now it’s a matter of waiting out the nuclear winter and think about how exactly to repopulate the planet with a room full of lesbians.

Welcome to the world of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, a comedy by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood that debuted almost exactly a year ago at the New Colony in Chicago, where the two constitute the artistic leadership of the company. The San Francisco production is a West Coast premiere courtesy of the new outfit Tides Theatre, which made its debut early this year with a production of Waiting for Godot.

At an hour long, 5 Lesbians could be considered a very short play, but in practice it’s more like an overlong skit. Directed with manic energy by Tides artistic director Jennifer Welch, the show’s definitely on the zany side but seems to want to be a lot funnier than it is. It is, however, a lot of fun, and well performed by the cast of five.

Maura Halloran is a particularly compelling bundle of energy as the domineering control freak Vern, and Caitlin Evenson is amiably subdued as Dale. Sophia LaPaglia’s Wren is a cooing and gushy society chairwoman, and Karina Wolfe totters on the edge of hysteria as the bubbly but high-strung Brit, Ginny. Susan Shay’s forceful society president Lulie has a very funny way of barking things out in a booming drill sergeant voice even when she’s simply saying how beautiful a photograph is.

Alicia Griffiths’s modest set turns the tiny theater into a wide-open meeting hall, with a quirkily sewed homemade banner showing the group’s long name. There’s no costume designer credited, but all five women wear charming dresses that help make the ’50s period credible. Jon Berson’s sound design lowers the boom appropriately when the cataclysm comes.

The society officers call us all “fellow widows,” though after the bomb drops they relish the opportunity to abandon the charade that they were ever married. There’s one hilarious running gag about the deposed buildings and grounds chairman, Marjorie—and not to alarm you, but Marjorie may be you or someone seated next to you. The society officers’ pointed glares at her are priceless.

Much less effective is a joke about the sisters’ religious adoration of eggs and of quiche as the most perfect expression of the true glory of those eggs. It’s baffling the first time around, and it doesn’t get much funnier the more it gets run into the ground. That said, the elaborate plans the women create to repopulate the planet with the baby one of them is carrying in her womb (whom she’s sure is a boy) just gets more outrageous as it goes along—and when you’re picking adult mates for your unborn child, it’s pretty over the top to begin with.

There are plenty of hysterical moments along the way—the actual quiche-eating scene among them—but there are also plenty of times when the joke wears thin. “We’re going to be down here for four years,” Vern says after a series of shocking revelations. “Can’t we spread out our secrets a little better?” If anything, the play has the opposite problem. It has a good 15 to 20 minutes of hilarity padded with filler to make it an hour—and even then it’s slight enough that if you’d expect another one-act to finish off the evening if you didn’t know better. This Quiche is tasty enough without quite being satisfying.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Through July 21
Phoenix Theater
414 Mason St. #601
San Francisco, CA

Show #58 of 2012, attended June 15.

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