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Last Summer at Bluefish Cove

Summer romance and "chick-lit" are two of the most popular literary genres, so there's no reason to think that combining the two wouldn't make for compelling theatre, but in the Theatre Group's current production of Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, a new and interesting twist has been added—all the characters are gay women.

Given the paucity of stories examining lesbian relationships, and because of the bigotry continually expounded by pseudo-religious types and the right-wing politicians who love them, it is significant that a story of this nature be given a public forum. In this context, playwright Jane Chambers drama is an excellent choice for its mix of interpersonal and social themes.

As the title implies, the story takes place in an out-of-the-way vacation spot—a place that years before had been set aside by a gay woman for the rest and recreation of her friends and acquaintances. Into this sheltered community comes Eva, newly separated from her husband.

Eva runs into Lil, who's fishing off the rocks at the cove, and thus begins a tale of awakening, love, and personal tragedy. As Eva, Trina O'Neill paints a detailed picture of a timid, naïve, and high-strung woman who has finally mustered the courage to leave her highly-controlled and passionless marriage.

Photo of Denise Perry-Olson as Lil and Trina O'Neill as Eva
(Left to right)
Denise Perry-Olson as Lil
and Trina O'Neill as Eva
She is immediately befriended by Lil, a strong, outdoor type. The statuesque Denise Perry-Olson portrays Lil, easily capturing her genial, sometimes randy nature, though struggling at times with Lil's assertiveness, anger, and despair. This leads to a few timing problems in the early scenes between Lil and Eva, with some moments lacking in genuine connectedness. This awkwardness gradually disappears as the drama progresses, and a tender and playful dynamic between the two women is interwoven with a growing tension over the medical secret that Lil keeps from Eva.

During their initial conversation, after inviting Eva to a party at her house that night, Lil is shocked to discover that Eva isn't gay and doesn't know anything about the special nature of the enclave into which she has stumbled. This sets up a comedic yet painful encounter with Lil's friends. Having been warned by Lil about Eva's straight orientation, the discomfort among the rest of the Cove's regulars is palpable when we meet them at the party.

Rhonda Brown's confidant, domineering Kitty is a sophisticated and successful MD worried about what might happen to her self-help book career if it got out that she is a lesbian. Despite her logical, even-tempered public persona, her private life is full of contradictions.

Misha Johnson plays Rita, Kitty's young, fastidious secretary and lover. Johnson's Rita hilariously parrots Kitty's pronouncements, punctuating her boss' sanctimonious demeanor with dead-pan earnestness.

Then there is Annie, one of Lil's oldest friends. A life-long, "born" lesbian, she taught Lil the ropes in college. In her overalls, swigging beer and ambling about in a bow-legged gait, McPherson Horle's Annie is a tough character with a heart of gold, protective of Lil's physical and emotional condition.

Annie's partner Rae, was married with kids before she discovered who she really was. We learn how her coming out affected her relationship with her two children. Terry Ann Watts' Rae exudes a tranquil domesticity and gentle understanding of her friend's issues.

Finally, there is Sue, a financially-independent, world-weary traveler, and her young, gorgeous lover, Donna. Sue's low self-esteem feeds an abusive relationship in which she allows Donna to step all over her. Lou Anne Wright's body language and coolly understated act of constant inebriation convey Sue's disappointment and pessimism with the inevitable, deterministic quality of a life sentence, as she stoops a little more each time she concedes to one of Donna's whims.

When Gia Mora appears as Donna in her revealing, skin-tight dress, and attempts to sashay across the sand to the party in high heels, we're simultaneously riveted by her beauty and beside ourselves with laughter at the spectacle. Her Donna's selfish insouciance and unselfconscious exhibitionism are a treat.

While the script indulges itself on occasion, and despite a few uneven moments in the early going, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is a thoughtful and entertaining tale. Director Billie McBride's staging provides for an unimpeded examination of important human issues, and Eva's and Lil's journeys, in particular, are challenging and emotionally rewarding.

The Theatre Group's production of Last Summer at Bluefish Cove runs through January 20th at the Phoenix Theatre. 303-777-3292.

 

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