Originally posted on chicagotheatre.com, where you can find my other reviews.
It’s lucky that the titular characters of 5 Lesbians Eating Quiche aren’t just in the closet when someone drops an atom-bomb on them: they’re also in a makeshift fallout shelter.
The bombastic, exuberant, over-the-top play invites us (literally—audience members are handed name tags upon entering the theatre) to the annual brunch of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Friends of Gertrude Stein, a society whose motto is “No men, no meat, no manners,” whose members are wholly composed of their city’s closeted lesbians, and whose only desire seems to be to judge among the members’ many quiches in order to choose the best.
Before the quiche is judged and the bomb dropped, we’re introduced not only to the play’s protagonists, the five society officers who lead the brunch, but also to some of their conflicts, tensions, and desires: mostly through jokes, delivered with impeccable comedic timing by the cast.
Vern (played by Thea Luxe as a subtly recognizably butch, even with her seersucker skirt on), is miffed with the awkward, shy Ginny (Caitlin Chukta) for not walking with her to the meeting. The loud, blonde Wren (Megan Johns), whose theatric cheerfulness seems to stem entirely from quiche-happiness, seems equally besotted with the camera-toting Dale (Kate Carson Groner), who is in turn really, really happy when she finds a photo of the society’s founder chopping down a log. Their head officer and mother-hen is Lulie, played convincingly by Rachel Farmer as if the role called for a gruff army general, even while in creamy-peach heels. One thing is definitely clear by the play’s midpoint: these women really, really love to eat quiche, and they’re not always talking about a buttery egg dish.
The play is carried along briskly by its rat-a-tat comedic pacing, but its attempts at heart fall a bit flat. I would care a lot more about the women, or their relationships, or even their quiche, if we knew anything about what they had to endure by hiding their sexuality. “I’m not a widow,” proclaims Vern at one point, “I’ve never even been married.” If they’ve never been married, have they always known about their sexuality? Have they ever acted on it? Some confessions at the end of the play hint at tension, but go no further. Although the play, set in the 1950s, has an air of exuberant liberation, it isn’t interested in illustrating the repression and shame that closeted lesbians must have felt at the time, or the ways that they might have acted on their feelings.
On some level, stories on stage are supposed to be cathartic: the characters on stage are just far enough away for their troubles cannot conquer us, and just close enough that their triumphs can be ours. But although the egg-centric utopia that 5 Lesbians posits looks like a great getaway, the play never lets us see enough of the repression or stigma the women might have faced for us to really feel what the five women might have been escaping from.
5 Lesbians Eating Quiche wants to have its quiche and eat it, too: it wants to have one foot firmly in the present, which is at least more lesbian-friendly than the past, and one foot treading cautiously into the past, wearing a high heel and trying to stay away from men.
With a very brisk runtime of 60 minutes 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche is a really good time—there’s running jokes, mild audience participation, and a gut-busting confession by one of the ladies in the second half that boasts several different voices. It is a funny, often hilarious celebration of women that doesn’t want to delve too deeply into the past (or present) repression of women or lesbians. It mostly just wants to make a lot of euphemistic jokes about eating quiche.