Raised by Lesbians
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Rob Curran, Fri., April 13, 2001
Raised by Lesbians: Radical, Girl
Hyde Park Theatre,
through April 21
Running Time: 1 hr, 10 min
On their dream scooter, writer Leah Ryan and director Ken Webster transport the audience to the heart of the Who's "Teenage Wasteland." Ryan's Raised by Lesbians introduces Joe, a 16-year-old tormented by a choice: Stay in Middle America to deal with bullies and his mother loving another woman, or risk life with his macho dad in New Jersey. His only assistance with the decision comes through deep conversations with his friend Gracie and fantasies out of a bad Frankenstein movie.
Dealing with adolescence, lesbians, and men and women's notions of each other, Ryan and Webster wisely confront society's presumptions throughout Raised by Lesbians. Is a guy with a lesbian mom and an embroidery habit going to be gay? Not always, replies Ryan. Is a girl in a cutoff army shirt and jeans going to be gay? Sometimes, replies Webster.
In Webster's Subterranean Theatre Company production, actor Joey Hood plunges himself into Joe's basketball shoes. He speaks teenage-ese fluently, with questioning intonation and clipped words -- he has even mastered the teenage grunt -- and he shares the agony of a boy beset by bullies. Multitalented Monika Bustamante plays Joe's one friend, Gracie, a character of sensitivity who is half in love with Joe's mom. Bustamante and Hood milk a ripe script. They debate New Jersey in wise dialogues and lame postcards. Joe's interest in a preppy type from their class spurs Gracie to the line: "She's such a dial-tone."
Middle America's other attraction to Joe is his mother. Alice, played by Chronicle book reviewer Katherine Catmull, loves talking theories about cats and dogs. She is the nightmare mom who refuses to be old. Ryan's universal moment of truth comes when Alice and Joe go shopping: Alice takes Joe to Home Depot and the preppy girl passes their spot near the carts. Please, begs Joe of Alice, don't say anything. The pleading tone makes it real.
Alice's lover Betty should be the baddie, after all. Joe would never think of escape if he had all the attention from Alice. Low on slush, high on intensity, the scenes between Catmull and Jessica Hedrick, as Betty, render love that cannot be denied. Fragility and strength move from one partner to the other. Gracie feels such warmth around Alice and Betty that she is terrified of Joe's move.
New Jersey offers Joe a school where the bullies don't know his mother is gay. His dad will buy him anything he wants, as he proves during a summer visit. Played by Douglas Taylor, Roy is a man fighting a legacy of paternal abuse; he tries to be a good dad. Taylor crumbles masterfully, talking to Joe after a few drinks, offering cigarettes and porn as father/son bonds, all with a demeanor that slips from dried cement to messy putty. Webster experiments with presentation throughout this production, using different media and styles of delivery. Also waiting in Jersey is Jennifer (Rebecca Robinson), Joe's new stepmom. Robinson presents Jennifer through an entertaining monologue. Every quarter, Jennifer sends a letter to all her old friends so that she can talk about herself. The audience hears about the red wool and the embroidered trees on Jennifer's seasonal outfit; she even makes a little joke about reindeers (ha! ha!). Robinson chirps like a woman over the edge, making Joe's decision even tougher. The subplot scenes connect to a lesser extent. In a skit straight from high school imagination, a campy doctor and nurse (Catmull and Hedrick) try to save "Feral Boy" from a masked villain. Feral Boy (also Douglas Taylor) is a hideous demon who bears many resemblances to a stereotypical male. Sound designer Robert Fisher does well to unhip Led Zeppelin and robs sound effects from the graves of Seventies horror studios, but in contrast to the bouncy exchanges of the reality scenes, some lines in the fantasy fall flat.
High school seldom flies onstage. Ryan creates the perfect vehicle by refusing to laugh at teens or distort them with nostalgia. When it's not fantasy, Raised by Lesbians is radical.