Gina Young’s 2013 play Femmes: A Tragedy has a clever, subversive premise. Young reimagines Clare Booth Luce’s 1936 play The Women — a comedy of manners portraying heterosexual relationships as a battle both within and between the sexes — as a contemporary story about lesbians who are femme, or, more precisely in one case, a “non-identifying polyamorous genderqueer who just happens to be presenting as femme at the moment.”
It’s a credit to Young that her play digs deeply into the politics of gender and generation while managing to be both affectionate and completely legible. If the play sometimes feels a little didactic — well, there are a lot of people from across the gender spectrum who have a little learning to do when it comes to the joys and frustrations of being a queer lady who loves her lipstick.
20% Theatre Company Twin Cities’ spunky new production — which runs through December 13 at Nimbus Theatre — gives each member of its eight-person cast room to shine. Saturday night’s performance started slowly, with some stagey gestures and awkward speeches, but it got better and better as the cast relaxed into their roles and started winning big laughs from the appreciative audience.
The play centers on Marigold (Stephanie Messer), whose relationship with a hot butch named Dylan is on the rocks. (Just as the male characters are unseen in The Women, so are the butch characters unseen here.)
Marigold’s gearing up to run the annual Femme Fest cabaret, and her philosophy of openness is put to the test when Callie (Jill Iverson), a bombshell femme who happens to be having a fling with Dylan, expresses interest in trying out for the show. The play culminates in the Femme Fest, featuring a poignant performance by Marigold set to — what else? — Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts.”
Director Claire Avitabile shows a sure hand with this ensemble piece, and each actor has some great moments. Morgen Chang, as Riot, proudly flaunts her more-the-merrier attitude towards relationships; Reyna Rios, as Guerra, turns a Flamenco burlesque into a personal triumph; and Briana Patnode, as the academic Libby, has a funny scene where her professorial resolve melts under pressure in a crowded boutique.
Dana Lee Thompson, whose principal character is Dexy, brought the house down as a bar staffer who recounts a melodramatic fight; Briana Lee Libby, as the young Courtney, brings a zing to the play’s final scene with an overconfident epiphany; and Iverson, effective as Callie, also had the audience in stitches as a “homorobics” instructor. As a 40-year-old scenester who’s seen it all, Amanda Hofman-Frethem almost steals the show.
There’s a lot to love in this spirited take on Young’s refreshingly real script. Don’t take my word for it: the best review I can offer isn’t mine, but that of a woman who was getting into a car next to mine after the show. “I have so many things to say,” she told the woman with her. “So many things to say!”