Forget what you think you know about quiche. Tiny Engine Theatre's latest offering, 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, makes a case that the humble breakfast dish is more than just eggs, cream, and vegetables. And while popular theory may be that real men don’t eat it, this production elevates quiche and the people who love it to a playful and interactive theatrical experience about self-acceptance. So, if you’re a quiche lover who has been hiding in the pantry all these years, or even just a little pie-curious, this play may give you the courage you need to come out and proclaim to the world who you really are.
At the start of this play by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, the five title lesbians gather in a bomb shelter belonging to their member Vern Schultz. They are meeting for the 1956 Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, where every year they meet to pick their favorite quiche baked by the group's members. This year is a bit different: the Communists may drop the atom bomb at any moment. No worries! Vern has supplied the shelter with enough dried food to last the group four years and has fixed the door so that after it has been opened for 60 seconds, it will be sealed shut forever.
But the atom bomb is the least of their worries. The real issue is who will win this year's quiche award. The evening turns darker when the inevitable happens and the lesbians – um, women – are forced to face who they really are.
Tiny Engine's production boasts a refreshingly original theatrical experience. From the moment you're handed your program, you are given a nametag and led into the shelter – um, meeting area – by Vern and Dale.
Common Ground Theatre has been configured to fit Faye Goodwin's simple matchbox household set that features a quadruple-paned window and two doors, as well as seating for the audience – um, the sisters – for the meeting. The grungy, garage-type feel of Common Ground makes the set’s sense of bomb shelter isolation even more visceral. Screams ring loudly in the space, but you get the feeling it’s because there is nowhere else for the sound to travel: it's trapped inside the four walls.
As soon as the nametags are on, the audience becomes part of the show. One audience member, dubbed "Marjorie," is the center of the sisters' jabs due to an incident at a previous meeting where she thought it would be progressive to include meat in a quiche. This goes against everything the sisters stand for, and for that, Marjorie is the butt of the jokes for the evening.
The show, which played Off-Broadway at SoHo Playhouse in 2012, is a study in a new kind of theatre, something that is almost hyper-theatrical. It involves the audience through the show's inventive participation methods: no one is safe in the darkness of the theater. Audience participation can often turn off playgoers – I remember seeing a production of Hair in which a woman was pulled on stage to dance and immediately marched back to her seat. But Tiny Engine's production was fun-filled from the beginning and never talked down to its audience. This was especially true when the leader of the sisters group, Lulie, instructed us on how to greet the sisters when she issues a call-to-arms. The audience loudly and enthusiastically followed her instructions.
For this production, come for the quiche but stay for the women. Each gave a passionate performance that was deep and brilliant. As the host of the party, Liz Webb's Vern was comic gold, giving smirks and sighs when words failed (and leaving the audience in stitches doing so). Erica Heilmann's Ginny, a new American citizen from Manchester, England, was prim and proper, so much so that when she had moments of "cutting loose," her choices were hilarious. Noelle Azarelo was a cute teeny-bopper-like Wren, subject to bursts of spastic paranoia (and shrill screaming). Laurel Ullman commanded the stage as Lulie, head of the Society, and was masterfully able to turn emotions on a dime, an ability she used to her comedic advantage. The most surprising turn in the show was Pimpila Violette's Dale, a part that seemed sadly underwritten at the beginning of the show, but that turned out to be much bigger than expected. Violette has created a poignant character out of Dale, who is haunted by her past demons but rises above them, willing to sacrifice all for those she loves.
Director Paul Sapp has assembled a fine group of actresses that took the audience through the script's lightest and darkest moments with ease and honesty. In the end, we realize how important it is that we know ourselves for who we really are: lovers of quiche.
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche continues through Sunday, August 2. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar. An encore presentation will play at the 2015 NC Gay + Lesbian Film Festival on Wednesday, August 19 at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.