Each year the Susan B Anthony Society For The Sisters Of Gertrude Stein celebrates the exploits of their pioneering woods-woman founder with a Quiche Breakfast. Not even escalating cold war tensions facing America in 1956 will keep these resolute young widows from the ritual. However, the instalment we get to attend via 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche is somewhat less decorous than usual.
Written by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, the play was an Off-Broadway hit. This feisty production, which had its Australian premiere in Brisbane last year, should find similar success, particularly with those having a taste for big, physical performances seasoned with a little suggestive humour. Some of us who wouldn’t normally be called sisters might have wondered if we were ignorant of some euphemisms, or witnessing the birth of new ones.
We begin with preparations for the breakfast in the society’s headquarters by our five office bearers, all very distinct personalities. President Lulie Stanwyck (Catherine Alcorn) sternly upholds procedure, glowering at indiscretions with an intensity not seen since Brian Blessed in Blackadder. She makes sure everyone knows the rules about contributing to the breakfast as she rumbled “Once you put meat in a quiche, it’s the only thing you can taste.”
Newly arrived Englishwoman Ginny Cadbury (Ashlee Lollback) is often on the receiving end of this ire, her anxiety causing her to often to cower and wear a submissive grin. Pig-tailed mid-Western Dale Prist (Bianca Zouppas) hasn’t spoken to a man since a falling out with her father when she was three. Exuberant hostess Wren Robin (Lauren O’Rourke) beams, laughs somewhat manically, and issues shrill greetings to all of us “sisters” drifting in to take our place in the audience.
Significantly though, the sisters can thank the society’s new activities director, confident local dressmaker (with a line in pant suits) Veronica Schulz (Lauren Jackson) for refurbishing the society’s rooms. Now doubling as a fallout shelter, the society’s future is assured regardless of what happens in the outside world. Of course, it’s difficult to cover every possibility, despite how well you plan.
Whilst we might guess a little of the story from the title and early setup, the play still has plenty of surprise ingredients. It seemed to overcook the middle through an extended section of getting men in the audience to admit to being a lesbian. Overall though, Nathanael Cooper’s direction ensured that for all the extreme behaviour, we wanted to cheer when the sisters had the courage to be themselves. A careful balancing of sweet and tart also meant some dark humour didn’t overwhelm the palate.
The 1950s illusion was aided by Sean Bryan’s design that echoed the era through the sisters’ hairstyles and frocks, and the sturdy engineering of the retrofitted clubrooms.
5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche served up wholehearted performances and physical comedy to ensure that audiences will talk about this tangy recipe long after Melbourne Fringe 2016 is done and dusted. If you missed this short season, start writing to your local festival now to ask for a repeat serving.
5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche
Main Theatre – Lithuanian Club, Errol Street North Melbourne
Performance: Friday 30 September 2016 – 6.45pm
Season: 24 September – 1 October 2016
Image: Susan B Anthony Society For The Sisters Of Gertrude Stein (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte