Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when deciding whether to see "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove" is that, while probably not intended as a comedy per se, it's very funny.
Which is why the play reaches immediately and beyond its obvious appeal to the gay community.
Curiously, three plays with overtly gay themes have been produced in Ventura County in recent weeks--"Bent," a Nazi prison drama at the Plaza Players' Theater in Ventura; the French-American farce "La Cage aux Folles" at the Conejo Players' Theater in Thousand Oaks; and "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove," produced by the Performing Artists Guild at the Arts Council Center.
Of the three, "Bluefish" is the least polemical and the most naturalistic. It was written by the late Jane Chambers, who has been called "America's best-known lesbian playwright" by Don Shewey, editor of the book "Out Front: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Plays."
The characters' sexuality is important to the story, but the play is a drama, not a tract. And while some of the characters are a bit stereotypical, they aren't necessarily gay stereotypes.
People are people, most of the time, and this collection of women includes several personalities you'd probably enjoy spending at least a couple of hours with in the theater.
Recently divorced, a thirtyish woman named Eva (Dana Hooley) rents a vacation cottage at the small East Coast resort of Bluefish Cove. What she doesn't realize is that Bluefish Cove has a strictly lesbian clientele. High jinks ensue, but this is a long way from the farcical "The Ritz," in which a heterosexual man on the lam takes refuge, unwittingly, in a gay bathhouse.
Among the Bluefish Cove residents, all of whom summer there each year, are three couples: wisecracking sculptor Annie (Pam Raines) and her practical lover, Rae (Jan Glasband); the independently wealthy Sue (Susan Turner) and her younger, evidently gold-digging companion Donna (Kristin Scott); and gynecologist turned feminist author Kitty (Dawn Hudson) and her adoring life-partner, Rita (Toni Beery).
The lone, unattached Bluefish Cove regular, Lil (Lindsay V. Jones), is the first person Eva meets upon arrival.
Eva doesn't fit comfortably in this crowd and not just due to a different sexual preference. All of the others have known each other for some time and share a special intimacy. And Eva, who's been taken care of--and, some would say, repressed--by the same man for 12 years is naive about a lot more in life than sexuality.
The story centers on whether--and, if so, how--Eva will fit in with the others. A subplot involving a potentially fatal illness keeps the play moving to its end, possibly invoking a few tears in the process.
But, really, it's about character, and Chambers' finely delineated women are lovingly interpreted by the cast, under the assured direction of Wes Deitrick. (Drama coach David Ralphe deserves a special acknowledgment. His students include the director and half the cast. In Thousand Oaks, as in Hollywood, connections are a major part of the battle).
Also of special note is the set design, credited to Emmy winner Todd Warfield ("Cheers,' "Dear John") and Richard Bluhm, who make maximum use of the Arts Council Center theater's small but versatile space.
WHERE AND WHEN
"Last Summer at Bluefish Cove" plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 and Sundays at 7 p.m. through Dec. 2 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Drive in Thousand Oaks. General admission tickets are $7, or $6 for students and seniors. The theater only seats 26 people, so reservations are virtually mandatory. For reservations or other information, call (805) 499-4355.