At the 1956 Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein’s Annual Quiche Breakfast, the smell of spinach and pepper quiche wafted throughout the room. As the executive board sunk into their spongy textured delight, a nuclear siren wailed – the commies were coming.
Last Friday and Saturday, the Kenyon College Players put on their production of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, written in 2014 by Andrew Hobgood and Evan Linder, in the Harlene Marley Theater. The play explores a Cold War apocalyptic scenario where the executive board of the quiche-eating club is confronted with their anxiety over their true sexual identities and the need to survive. Replete with sexual innuendo, 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche combines 1950s values of femininity with contemporary humor. Directed by Jane Lindstrom ’21 and Katie Stevenson ’21, this rendition breaks the fourth wall with wit and the use of claustrophobia in its bunker setting.
At the beginning of the show, each audience member received a nametag and, once placed, was indoctrinated as a member of the club. Also immersive was the set itself, designed by Adam Riva ’21, which had the audience sit on either side of a central stage. Posters and photos of eggs and iconic women of the 1950s, connected by ribbons made of caution tape, hung along the room’s walls. Upon entering this compact space, the audience met Buildings and Grounds Chair Veronica “Vern” Schultz (Kennedy Frazier ’22) and Events Chairwoman Wren Robin (Anna Hampton ’22) while Club Historian Dale Prist (Sarah Groustra ’22) snapped photographs. The nervous British secretary Ginny (Samara Handelsman ’21) tries to make an impression among her fellow members. As the meeting commences, the club’s proper, Southern president, Lulie Stanwyck (Mia Fox ’19), storms onstage with the prize-winning quiche.
The climax of the show occurs when an outside threat, strongly indicated to be a nuclear bomb, hits the small town. There is a sense of chaos within the club and its protected bunker.
The script fails to create rounded characterizations; rather, the confinement of the story dilutes the work. Due to the play’s hour-long runtime and five-person ensemble cast, it was difficult to understand the perspective of each individual character. With the exception of Dale, who emotionally monologues about her traumatic childhood, the play lacks consistent, fully developed characters. However, the cast members made up for this with brilliant comedic timing. Lindstrom and Stevenson’s direction incorporated improvisation, and the actresses’ spontaneity and engagement with the audience helped drive the spirit of the show.
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche is a deviation from the political anxieties that face today’s LGBTQ+ community. However, audience member Grey Smith ’21, who identifies as a lesbian, felt that the play used the word “lesbian” as a punchline that reinforced unfavorable stereotypes.
“Many of the jokes seemed as though they were geared towards a straight audience, rather than catering to a lesbian audience or trying to understand the nuances of lesbian identity … often, ‘lesbian’ is connotated as dirty or otherwise insulting and bad and I felt that the show, rather than addressing the history behind the word, instead perpetuated these connotations and stereotypes,” Smith said.
The jokes Smith refers to include a moment where characters approached members of the audience, stated an absurd, 1950s-esque reason the person must be a lesbian, and urged them to say the phrase “I am a lesbian” out loud. This drew genuine laughs as well as awkward ones, as the audience members singled out were mainly men who seemed uncomfortable saying the line.
The play was at its most successful when it emphasized the community aspect of the group. 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche frames coming out as a source of strength that unifies the characters. The actresses’ enthusiastic performances emphasized the love and friendship their characters showed for each other, which was especially heartwarming considering the oppressive society in which they lived. Despite some awkward moments, the energy and vigor of the cast and crew made 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche an enjoyable experience. It is a shame that the script was just as frustrating as it was funny.