Ann Bannon, a puesdonym for Ann Weldy, wrote six lesbian themed pulp novels from 1957 to 1962. These novels are collectively known as The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, and have experienced several renaissances of rediscovery. The most recent was when Cleis Press rereleased the series from 2001 to 2003 with newly penned autobiographical forwards. The Hourglass Group presented the World Premiere of Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman's play adaptation of the series in 2007. The writers used material from the second, third, and fourth novels (I Am a Woman, Women in The Shadows, and Journey to a Woman) to construct their narrative. THE BEEBO BRINKER CHONICLES found success both Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway, and was awarded the GLAAD Media Award for "fair, accurate, and inclusive" character portrayals of gay and lesbian people.
Set mostly in Manhattan's Greenwich Village from 1952 to 1961, THE BEEBO BRINKER CHRONICLES, having its Houston Premiere presented by Celebration Theatre, tells the story of the search for sexual identity. The script avoids camp and decidedly doesn't sugarcoat any aspect of the rough journey from the repression of one's sexual identity to the full realization and embracing of one's self. Of course, this journey is thoroughly complicated and immensely conflicted because the female leads are not only discovering themselves sexually in the 50s and early 60s, but they are also lesbians and dealing with a society that tells them what they feel is wrong. Thus, THE BEEBO BRINKER CHORNICLES teeters between being a romantic comedy and fantasy and a play that is taught with heavy hitting themes of finding and embracing one's identity while comfortably bending or altogether defying gender role conformity. These characters are far from being happy and cheery, and the audience gets to see every ounce of their self-loathing and pain on their roads to discovery.
Randall Jobe's direction ensures that the characters on stage read as believable and not campy caricatures of Lesbian archetypes and 1950s personas. While some of the more physical scenes seem to be played more for laughs and have tinges of camp, this does not detract from the production and provides a sensible and light-hearted touch that ultimately allows the audience a chance to take a brief break from the weighty thematic elements. Likewise, in true pulp style, the plot errs on the melodramatic and is reminiscent of a soap opera. Despite being set in the 1950s and 1960s, the show feels incredibly progressive and modern. Randall Jobe captures and adequately develops each theme, making this production of lesbian pulp fiction more captivating, intriguing, and intellectually stimulating than The L Word.
Darin Montemayor's Beth is impressively realized and played. At first, Beth rejects Laura-her lover from college-and sends her to New York all alone. It is not because Beth doesn't love Laura, it is because her own idea of femininity excludes her lesbian feelings. Beth, following her narrow and rigidly defined ideal of woman, chooses a husband and children over love. She enslaves herself to fitting a societal norm and loathes her children, her husband, and herself. Darin Montemayor conveys this emotional conflict with deft poignancy, allowing the audience a glimpse into a struggle that still exists in present times. In the second act of the show, Beth's arc frees Beth from her self-imposed repression and she journey's to Manhattan to find Laura, which allows Darin Montemayor to expertly showcase the tumultuous and sometimes dangerous journey to self-discovery as well.
Laura, as played by Margaret Lewis, gets a jump-start on her quest for identity. In New York, she longs for a woman to fill the void that her idealized love of Beth has left in her heart. From the beginning of the production, the audience watches as she struggles with the burden of forbidden loves. Having been hurt by Beth's rejection, she is advised to stay away from the games that heterosexual women may play with her. Refusing to take the advice, she gets lost in an unfulfilling and frustrating flirtation with Marcie. In the aftermath of Marcie, Margaret Lewis makes Laura's hurt palpable and wholly affecting. Leaving girls behind, she falls for the masculine Beebo. Their torrid romance is fleeting because Beebo can't fill Beth's void and leaves Laura cold. Margaret Lewis expertly takes the audience on this intense and discordant rollercoaster ride of loss and discovery, showcasing and making believable the "coming-of-age" elements of the plot.