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THEATER REVIEW : Polished Satire From the Five Lesbian Brothers

April 21, 1993|NANCY CHURNIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — The destiny of the lesbian in popular film has invariably been doom. Lesbian characters, portrayed with varying shades of pain, seem destined to be tragic or forgotten, from the suicide in "The Children's Hour" to the homicidal lesbians in "Basic Instinct" to the near-burial of the lesbian themes in the film versions of "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "The Color Purple."

One thing they have never been is funny.

Until now.

The Five Lesbian Brothers, the talented New York-based troupe of Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey and Lisa Kron, know laughing well is the best revenge. They have created a full-length, two-act play, "Brave Smiles . . . another lesbian tragedy," which parodies the gay cliches about lesbian destiny--with deadly accuracy.

The howls from the wildly responsive overflow crowd at San Diego's Sushi Performance Gallery Friday night proved the jokes hit home.

The show (the company's second), which tours to Highways in Santa Monica Thursday-Sunday, tells the tale of five young women in an all-girls' school, their battles with headmistress Frau von Pussenheimer, their burgeoning sexuality and their melodramatically convoluted journeys to their absurdly tragic ends, from a brain tumor to the electric chair.

The five actresses play 16 characters between them (including providing the voice of Nipper the dog), with Susan Young's costumes and Jamie Leo's painted scenery on suspended sheets cleverly accommodating scenes that change with cinematic swiftness.

What makes "Brave Smiles" truly memorable, however, is that the Five Lesbian Brothers do more than skewer an overripe target. Under Kate Stafford's deft direction, the 4-year-old company does the deed with polished performances, crackerjack timing and a minimum of production fuss.

Dibbell is a stand-out among this fine cast as the lascivious yet repressed Frau von Pussenheimer, segueing easily to boyish schoolgirl Will (who turns lounge singer) and a devastating send-up of Audrey Hepburn in "The Children's Hour," as directed by fellow school chum Damwell Maxwell--played as the poor little rich girl by Kron. Healey shows comparable comedic breadth, moving from an excessively loving teacher to schoolgirl-turned-aviatrix Babe to Shirley MacLaine playing opposite Dibbell in "The Children's Hour."

* "Brave Smiles . . . another lesbian tragedy," Sushi Performance Gallery, 852 Eighth Ave., San Diego, touring to Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Thursday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Ends April 25. (310) 453-1755. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Maureen Angelos: Thalia, Martha, Reporter No. 1

Babs Davy: Millicent, Miss Gateau, Parisienne maitre 'd

Dominique Dibbell: Will, Frau von Pussenheimer, Reporter No. 2, Audrey Hepburn

Peg Healey Babe, Miss Phillips, the wounded soldier, Shirley MacLaine, The Bum

Lisa Kron: Damwell Maxwell, the Baroness

A presentation of the Five Lesbian Brothers by Fresh Dish in San Diego, Highways in Santa Monica. Director Kate Stafford. Creators Maureen Angelos, Babs Davy, Dominique Dibbell, Peg Healey, Lisa Kron. Sets Jamie Leo. Costumes Susan Young. Lighting Diana Arecco. Sound Peg Healey. Company manager Heidi Sama Blackwell. Musical arrangements Tom Judson and the Brave Smiles Orchestra.

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