TAMPA — The show starts at the ticket counter, where audience members walk away wearing female name tags.
The gesture continues from the opening moments of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, as proud leaders of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein address the crowd as fellow members. It’s 1956; women attend civic clubs in floral print dresses, heels and hats, and you can practically smell the perfume and powder from the seats in Stageworks Theatre.
A sense of occasion — in this case, the society’s annual quiche-tasting contest — gives way to a bit of scene setting, complemented by a fastidious set by Frank Chavez. A banner spells out the contest in a schoolteacher’s cursive hand and soothing pastels coordinate seamlessly, right up to a wheel-handled vault door that seals off the outside. The red scare is at an all-time high, and nuclear war is just one more thing for which these ladies have prepared.
The show by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood started in Chicago as a 10-minute sketch. It expanded to 75 minutes and an off-Broadway run. John Pinckard, the Apollo Beach native who produced it in New York and directed last year’s show at Stageworks, wasn’t here for this encore production of 5 Lesbians. But director Jorge Acosta has preserved the spirit that prompted locals to ask for a repeat.
Members of the ensemble cast of Emily Belvo, Jaime Giangrande-Holcom, Kari Goetz, Karla Hartley and Nicole Jeannine Smith at times wander into the aisles, and occasionally get a side-rolling glance from Vern, played by Hartley, Stageworks’ producing artistic director in a rare (and delightful) appearance. A good-natured fellow in the front row played the unseen society member “Marjorie,” whether he had planned to or not, and was subject to gossip and other pointed conversation directed his way by other members who stared him down from a few feet away.
These touches embellish the central idea that this is a long-running joke and we’re in on it.
Double-entendres about quiche and lesbianism are equally undisguised and frequent, prompting laughs throughout. They rhapsodize about the “first time I ate quiche;” genuflecting with serving rituals before “the egg” and all things feminine. Their accents wander a bit, with some stereotypical, inauthentic Southern (Smith, in an otherwise winning performance as Dale) and some on-again, off-again British (Belvo, as the uptight Ginny).
Oh, and a nuclear war breaks out. That’s important because it means we’re all trapped in this basement bunker for at least four years.
But really, it doesn’t matter. Props to the cast, especially Goetz as the hyper-controlling club president, Lulie. Repression is the primary punchline here, and Goetz’s air of utter command seals it.
Over time, 5 Lesbians probably won’t linger in the collective consciousness as an important play or even a particularly memorable one. Its charm lies in everyone involved in this production knowing that and never pretending otherwise.
In the hands of these subtly subversive hostesses, it goes down like sweet iced tea at the end of a long, hot summer.