Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

About Face Theatre

Amy Warren and Julia Neary
A pastiche of mid-century lesbian pulp novels might be expected to have appeal to no more than the (probably small) segment of women who remember them from that era, but Pulp, written by About Face artistic associate Patricia Kane, was a crossover hit for the company three seasons ago and has since been produced around the US. Even if you have never read the likes of Girl's Dormitory or Satan was a Lesbian, you might recognize the genres and archetypes these novels appropriated for their own use. The outsider, the tough broad, the siren and the hypersexuality of a renegade sub-society are recognizable and you can enjoy Pulp as a send-up of any of the 1950s gritty urban social dramas.

Pulp's outsider is Terry Logan (Julia Neary), a butch young woman from Texas just discharged from the Women's Army Corps. On a train bound for Chicago during a hot summer in 1956, she meets the perky Pepper (Hanna Dworkin) who instantly gets that Terry is a kindred spirit and invites her to the lesbian nightclub where she works and offers her the spare room upstairs. The other denizens of this club are Esther "Winny" Nitz (played by Ms. Kane), a drag performer uncertain of her sexual orientation; Eva "Bing" Malone, a femme songstress (Lesley Bevan); and club owner Vivian Blaine (Amy Warren), who like Winny has not entirely embraced her sexual orientation. Ms. Warren employs a Joan Fontaine alto while projecting her character's efforts to maintain the decorum acceptable for women of the time ("discretion is being able to raise your eyebrows, not your voice") in the midst of her shadowy underworld. The tough Terry lets her libido draw her initially to the sexy and oversexed Eva, and they begin a stormy affair. As another character explains, "Eva is indeed a cannon, and she is loose."

By the time the curtain falls on this 90-minute one act show, everyone is appropriately coupled and at peace with their sexual orientation. As there are no surprises in the outcome, the fun is in the journey. In addition to enjoying Neary's Brando-ish Terry, Dworkin's Martha Raye-inspired fun-but-frumpy sidekick, and Bevan's sultry send-up of Bacall, we can luxuriate in the mood of the time and place. The unit set by Meghan Raham recalls an art deco cocktail lounge designed in the '30s and untouched by the time of the action in the '50s, and J. R. Lederle's lighting design gives it a nighttime backstreet mood. An original score of period-sounding songs (with music by Andre Pluess and Warren, lyrics by Kane) performed as nightclub numbers adds to the fun.

Director Jessica Thebus has pulled all these elements together in an entertaining piece that can be enjoyed on a number of levels. I would have been just as happy had it been about 30 minutes shorter —after establishing characters and the general tone of the piece, it seems to repeat itself on the way to its inevitable resolution. To my taste, Pulp might work best as a 60 minute one-act paired with another piece. Alternatively, with more plot (but no additional camp, please), it could be expanded into a full-length piece. Pulp's setting and its take on sexuality and individuality would interesting enough to support that.

Pulp runs through May 27th at the Victory Gardens Upstairs Mainstage, 2257 N. Lincoln. Ave., Chicago. Tickets are available by calling 773-871-3000 or visiting

Photo: Michael Brosilow

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