Whether real men eat quiche might still be an open question, but apparently real women do. The women in 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche make an especially zesty meal of it in the upcoming production by Madison’s Stage Q.
The 75-minute dark comedy by Chicago authors Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood concerns an annual quiche contest run by the fictitious Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. All self-described “widows,” the women gather in small town America circa 1956 for some heady fun while the threat of nuclear Armageddon casts its deadly shadow around them.
“On the surface, ‘eating a quiche’ stands in for lesbian sex, but the play is not just a sex romp,” says director Jan Levine Thal. “Each character faces a crisis of identity, not simply about her sexual orientation, but more generally about who she is.”
The play’s humor is built on double-entendres wrapped in 1950s innocence that eventually gives way to a bawdy romp as the women “tear off the June Cleaver crinoline façade to reveal the darker undercurrents of the 1950s,” according to Stage Q dramaturge James Clayton.
“It’s a fun play, but I think it also addresses a common issue that spans time, gender, space and sexuality — that of conforming to social norms while having an overwhelming desire not to,” Clayton says. “The women in the play rebel against social construction of sexuality, but it takes a major disaster to get them there.”
The cast is local to Madison and includes Stacy Garbarski, Simone LaPierre, Pushy Muldowney, Caitlin Robb, Emily Popp and Clarice LaFayette. Each woman supports the narrative equally, and there are no minor characters, says Thal, who was mum about the actors’ sexual orientation.
“I cast the play based on acting ability, not on personal attributes,” Thal says. “The audition form asked, ‘Are you willing to kiss a woman onstage?’ and everyone answered ‘yes.’ Who they kiss offstage is their own business.”
Despite the humorous undercurrent and ribald performances, there are deeper issues about female equality and sexuality that give the play depth, Clayton says.
“The most obvious symbols include the egg (as the primary ingredient of quiche), a symbol of fertility, completion and, in this instance, for female sexuality,” Clayton says.
There also is a sort of Rosie-the Riveter conceit at work among the characters, he adds — a can-do spirit that flies in the face of societal expectations that women need men. Clearly, that’s not the case here.
The play’s doomsday scenario is part of the 1950s cultural fabric, but it also underscores “the overarching social theme that homophobia is a form of terrorism,” Thal says. “And like nuclear war, it can have serious consequences for the entire society.”
Stage Q’s production of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche runs March 28–April 12 for nine performances at Madison’s Bartell Theatre, 113 E. Mifflin St. For more information, visit www.stageq.com.