Preview: Beebo Brinker

The playwright tells us about pre-Stonewall lesbian life in time for GayFest this month

Ann Bannon’s pulp novels about Beebo Brinker, a lesbian living in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s, were unlike anything the world had seen when they were published more than a half-century ago. They became a favorite among lesbian literary lovers looking for a glimpse into what life was like before the Stonewall Riot in 1969. All six of the books were adapted for the stage three years ago by playwrights Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman to rave reviews.

Most recently, the play’s being produced in Philly as part of GayFest, the newest LGBT theatre festival kicking off Aug. 12. As Ryan enjoys packed houses in New York for her latest project The Judy Show, starring lesbian comedian Judy Gold, we talked to her about what it was like bringing Beebo back to life, and what today’s lesbians might have in common with their fictional “foresisters.”

What first attracted you to the project?
I loved the books; they were great big, giant gay soap operas. I call them the original L Word.

What can the play tell us today about lesbian life pre-Stonewall?

Kara Boland and Carly Bodnar heat things up in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles (photo by John Donges and courtesy of Quince Productions)

Well, besides that rent was cheap in the West Village? Community life was lived in the bars and gay people had to remain completely closeted in their work lives, how scary and hidden gay life was and how self hating and destructive gay people grew to be because of homophobia. In the books, Beebo becomes an abusive, abject alcoholic who really, at one point, goes over to the dark side and abuses Laura.

Were there any challenges interpreting content from the 50s and 60s for today’s audiences?

The main challenge my collaborator Linda Chapman and I had was to balance the camp tone of the book. So while the piece veered on melodrama, it had a veracity to it, as well.
What might surprise audiences about the show?
How funny it is and how sexy it is.
What are some of the messages about life, love and sexual identity that still hold true?
In the book and the play, Laura and Jack create their own family. Nowadays, gay and lesbian people still create families with one another, whether it means they have children together or are just there for each other when their own families aren’t. I, for one, cannot imagine raising my son without the gay men in my life. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well, I happen to be in Provincetown right now, so you can just imagine.

What other projects are you working on now?
I just opened and co-wrote The Judy Show: My Life is a Sitcom starring Judy Gold at the Daryl Roth Theater in New York City. It’s gotten rave reviews and is selling out!
The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, previews Aug. 18 (7 p.m.), opens Aug. 18 (8 p.m.), runs Aug, 20 and 21 (2 p.m.), Aug. 25 (7 p.m.), Aug. 27 (8 p.m.) and Aug. 28 (2 p.m.), Shubin Theatre, 407 Bainbridge St., 215-627-1088.