NRT Presents: ‘Five Lesbians Eating A Quiche’
No Refund Theatre returns this week with another production in its spring catalog. With great pride, the organization serves up “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche”.
Written by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche plays with both self-expression and sisterhood for a delightful commentary on the spectrum of sexuality. Directed by Katie Smith, the play supplies enough laughter to fill the entirety of Forum 111 but remains a tale of communal coming-out inherently heartwarming in its representation of unexpected acceptance.
Set in a community meeting in 1956, the play first introduces the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s officers at their annual quiche breakfast. Made whole by five, egg-obsessed widows who can only be described as possessing the potential energy of rubber bands poised to spring, the women gather on their special day to enjoy the meal. With this annual event excitedly marking time for the sisters like Christmas morning for young children, it seems as if the ladies have reached their sacred oasis of female empowerment with no men, no meat, and all manners.
Then, quite literally, it all blows up. Just as quickly as the audience, also designated as fellow members of the Society, are acquainted with our fearless leaders, an atomic bomb drops. As the outside world is obliterated by the fumes and radiation, the women are left helpless inside the meeting hall, preparing to ration what’s left of each quiche and what’s left of each other to survive until a better day.
With doomsday readily available from the view from the window, the women grimly realize that they truly could be the last people left on Earth. The protagonists discover that an unforeseen and otherwise impossible opportunity presents itself amidst the destruction outside: the chance for self-expression and sexual liberation in bliss, only achievable when acceptance is guaranteed.
To create an environment of freedom both on and off stage, director Katie Smith worked hard from the beginning. In addition to creating technical elements for special effects, Smith also first empowered her actors with communication.
“I was really trying to foster that type of environment where we can talk to each other about what makes them comfortable and what makes them uncomfortable,” she said. “That’s something that I really emphasized from the beginning- that I was always an open ear.”
Smith also elaborated on her commitment to her actors’ successes beyond the production, sharing her perfect recipe for fostering a safe space and in turn formulating the best results on stage.
“I really want them to do well in their life outside of this as well,” she said.
While also fulfilling the role of cheerleader for her all-star cast, Smith directed the show holding the story close to her heart throughout the process.
“When I was closeted at fifteen, I was scouring the Internet for queer women representation,” Smith said. “It was so difficult to find stuff you could laugh at, so difficult to find stuff that wasn’t dramatic, that wasn’t said and tragic.”
Conquering issues of gender essentialism and gold-star lesbianism as a comedy, the story stood out to Smith from the first moment she spotted the title on her theatre teacher’s shelf. Exploring its unabashed presentation of LGBTQ+ communities within the comical realm, Smith knew the production needed to be brought to the Penn State stage.
“You need to laugh at yourself,” she explained. “It was so wonderful to actually find a comedic representation of this stuff. That was what was so important to me.”
Faithful to the content and its ability to satirize challenging topics, assistant director and third-year Ash Iwanowicz revealed how the specifics of casting allowed for the material to shine in its unique capacity of comedy for complexity.
“It takes a certain group of people to talk about this, especially in this way,” she said. “The nature of the content really brought us together because we had to have a united front to tackle the subject in a mature way.”
In finding unity within the cast to create a community on stage, first-year Perry Drugan reflected on how she connected within the sisterhood ever-present even after the curtain falls. With matching charm bracelets made by fellow castmates turned lifelong friends, the cast bonded in classic NRT fashion by their joint love for acting and the sacred space of inclusivity fostered within the organization.
Drugan also discovered a method to mirror the sisterhood presented on stage through the manipulation of a prop within the show- a film camera owned by director Katie Smith. Snapping away in character throughout the production, she explained her personal joy of the homegrown prop fostering friendships off stage.
“I love taking the pictures, it’s just such a fun thing to do,” Drugan said. “We’re gonna make a little scrapbook and just have them forever.”
Echoing sentiments of the ultimate girl gang beyond production, second-year Gabby Kline explained her take on the production process with close friends. Playing the role of Vern, Kline explained the purest form of joy presented within her first-ever NRT production.
“My favorite rehearsals were probably the ones where we were making ourselves laugh from how funny things were,” Kline said. “Especially with such an amazing crew and cast… we are a close-knit group”
By relying on the family discovered to perform the challenging comedic piece, the cast found comfort in the community for content. Kline also drew a comparison between the open, accepting environment of experimentation for both the protagonists onstage and students of Penn State.
“College is a time when you are exploring your identity, and this play, in particular, focuses on your sexual identity which is a really hard thing for anyone to come to terms with,” Kline explained. “….especially in our heteronormative society, which is even more evident within the timeframe of this show.”
“We throw all of these ladies into a scenario where it does not matter, where they are able to be whoever they want to be, and college is that same kind of environment,” she said.
Explaining this theme particularly relatable to the college audience, fourth-year Marley Bradner expanded the idea of identity to a larger equation of self-expression plus encouragement for confidence against gender stereotyping.
“You see that trouble among all of them; that they believe they are powerful but they haven’t been told they are powerful,” Bradner said. Pointing out this battle for each protagonists’ self-actualization, Bradner highlighted the differentiator that ultimately leads to sexual liberation for each character.
“Feminism is everything,” she said. “These are women who support women, and are here for the women.”
Building upon these complex messages, the comedy reveals truth meant to be discovered by the audience in the rare moments they aren’t left giggling by the hilarious antics on stage. First-year Sylvie Vanstory also highlighted the importance of meaningful elements intermittent through each scene, much aligned with director Katie Smith’s original vision for lighthearted representation through laughter.
“Trying to find the actual moments of realistic humanity is important,” Vanstory said. “Especially in a really whacky comedy story.”
As the message is already enhanced by elements of realism in the eccentric production, countless hidden gems stand out to fully encapsulate the story as a comedy. One major asset to the production remains the interactive element of the show in which the audience finds themselves reacting as if they were members of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.
“We wanted it to feel like the audience was included and we wanted it to be an open space,” said second-year and assistant director Ella Bradner. “It’s not a show- it’s just sisters attending a meeting and chaos ensues!”
With sisters in mind, Bradner also explained another personal connection behind the female empowerment prevalent on stage. Working with her own sister and cast member, Marley Bradner, the assistant director revealed the mixed feelings about their joint creative careers coming to a close.
“It’s bittersweet, and we just realized the other day… this is actually our last show together,” Bradner said. “I’ve done theatre with her my whole life, and I hope I make her proud because she makes me so proud.”
As sisterly connection flourished both on and off stage, the production was poised for success. Other theatrical elements including clever costuming in a brightly-lit setting, modern jokes, and subtle nods to the production staff all combine for the audience’s complete experience.
One of these easter eggs presents itself from the very first scene. Here, we discover all five protagonists standing together, with each bright costume creating a makeshift rainbow across the stage in another form of representation. President of NRT, fourth-year, and actress in the show, Emma Cagle, explained the philosophy behind costuming.
“We wanted everything to be as bright as possible because all these characters are so lively,” she said. “We definitely had the opinion that the costumes needed to shine.”
“From head to toe, I think that the costumes match the outside of what the show is about but also just internally, who each character is,” she concluded. With individual outfits for personalization yet also combining in this rainbow effect, the costuming of the show similarly reflects the individuality presented within each character that also serves as a crucial piece of the puzzle for the group dynamic.
Additionally, no detail is missed in the incorporation of clever nods to modern humor. In this thinking, masks within the show are designated as bomb-defense equipment to protect from radiation yet also emblazoned with imagery of cracked egg yolks, another method in which the production incorporates elements of the 21st century into the heart and soul of the story.
“It was written for a modern audience set in a past life,” actress Marley Bradner explained.
Adding onto these subtle nods, the actors integrate a well-known hand motion popular within Gen Z to bridge the 50-year-gap between the setting and 2022. In addition to present-day culture, the small action makes a large impact on both audience enjoyment and plot fulfillment.
“While the dialogue is very 1950s, I think our physicality is what brings the modern comedy to it,” she said. “We bring in this modern hand motion, and the way we are acting on stage is to highlight the comedic aspects.”
Within this quick flick of the wrist most commonly performed on TikTok, the actors add present-day flair to the periodic production, instantly recognizable as another brilliant easter egg for the audience.
With these hidden gems in each scene, this final piece of the production combines comedic elements and bits of humanity blended for honest representation. In this recipe for success, NRT President Emma Cagle applied the show’s message to the organization as a whole.
“They are all in this together. The show speaks to finding those communities where you can be yourself with other like-minded individuals that make you the best version of yourself” she said. “It’s finding stories that we can all share together, that people can feel a part of either on stage, on the directing staff, or in the audience.”
“NRT is a small step in making that happen for everyone,” she said.
Serving up enough comedy, cleverness, and complexity to go around, “5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche” will premiere in Forum 111 at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 24. If you’re looking for a second helping, two more performances will occur at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 25, and 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 26.
As always, No Refund Theatre performances are free of charge. A content warning is emphasized for sexual content and images of partial nudity, as well as a trigger warning for language, flashing lights, and loud noises.
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