IRVINE — Webster's New World Dictionary defines a phobia as "an irrational, excessive and persistent fear of some particular thing." Fear can be abolished with knowledge. That's one of the aims of Manhattan's performance group the Five Lesbian Brothers: to dispel a bit of homophobia and to keep audiences laughing in the process.
The Brothers closed their show, "The Secretaries," Sunday at Santa Monica's Highways. But their wit and wisdom will linger in Southern California, thanks to a new UC Irvine stage production of "Brave Smiles . . . another lesbian tragedy." The second show the troupe created plays UCI's Fine Arts Village Theatre Stage for four performances beginning Thursday.
"Brave Smiles" both embraces and mocks media images of lesbians in such popular works as Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour," the stage and film drama "The Killing of Sister George," the classic German girls' school film "Maedchen in Uniform" and "The Well of Loneliness."
UCI Associate Dean of Fine Arts Kate Davy, who is directing the production, has strong reasons for choosing this project--besides the fact that her sister co-wrote it.
"Considering the historical moment we're in, which is an extraordinary historical moment in terms of gay and lesbian rights, it's entirely time that we start addressing the issues in all kinds of ways," Davy said.
"This show is a wonderful way to start when it comes to this kind of work, to let people start to let down their guard a little and start to take some things in.
"The play," she continued, "parodies all of the classic representations of lesbians in mainstream culture. The whole first act is based on the Weimar German film 'Maedchen in Uniform,' and other girls' school kind of movies, and women's prison films come into play in the second part.
"It both foregrounds the fact hilariously that lesbians have to be brutally punished or dead by the end of the narrative. It very much makes that point. It's also a very loving rendering, because these are the images the lesbian community hates, but they're the only images there were. The play hates the images and loves them at the same time."
In a fortuitous crossing of events, the UCI production was in rehearsal while the creators of the play were appearing in Santa Monica. One of the founders of the Five Lesbian Brothers in 1989 is Babs Davy, Kate Davy's sister. The UCI cast went to Highways to see the play, and the Brothers visited rehearsals in Irvine.
Babs Davy, an art historian and until recently registrar at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, left the security of that life when the Brothers' touring schedule began to get heavy.
After seeing a rehearsal of Kate Davy's production, her sister said she was convinced that the play does work for other actresses. It's not a creator-specific work.
"That's what's exciting to me," Babs Davy said. "It really holds up. We had a ball watching it, and it wasn't just because we wrote it. We looked at each other and said, 'This is really a good play.'
"What I noticed most was the gay-straight thing. The actresses are straight, and attempting to play lesbians. It's a big jump, a cultural ocean to cross. It's such a giant part of a person's identity. It's an excellent experience for these young actors."
Kate Davy agreed.
"It's a great learning experience for these actors," she said. "We were strongly concerned in finding a show that had really strong roles for women. I thought 'Brave Smiles' was an excellent vehicle, because it's five women playing 19 roles in an hour and a half."
The director isn't concerned about adverse community reaction to the play.
"I think Orange County is absolutely ready for this, because it's a parody, a spoof, and it's wildly funny. It's exactly the kind of first thing to do in Orange County if you're going to do this kind of work. It's a hard show to hate. . . . It will turn off very few people."
Sister--or Brother--Babs Davy added with a laugh: "It jumps wildly from time to time. One tragic thing happens after another. One by one they all get knocked off until there's only one left. That's the joke."
\o7 * "Brave Smiles . . . another lesbian tragedy" opens Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Fine Arts Village Theatre, UC Irvine. Performances Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $6-$8. (714) 856-6616. \f7