Split Britches, the venerable post-modern lesbian theatre company, have returned to New York with a prototypical, po-mo spin on a contemporary classic, The Salad of the Bad Cafe at NYC's La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Performances began Feb. 17 for a run ending March 4 (a March 5 final show was recently cancelled). The troupe originally played the piece at La MaMa in November 1998.
Salad of the Bad Cafe takes its title from the Carson McCullers' novel "Ballad of the Sad Cafe." The plot of the novel, set in a southern mill town during the Depression, concerns a triangle of unrequited love: an eccentric female bootlegger-doctor dotes on a homosexual hunchbacked dwarf who in turn loves an embittered convict, once the bootlegger's husband. The pain of all this builds to a violent fist fight between the bootlegger and the convict, witnessed by the entire town.
The novel was first adapted for the stage by Edward Albee, for a Broadway run in 1963. Split Britches' take on the tale is more of a hodgepodge of gender confusion, songs, and Brechtian alienation. Production spokesperson Jonathan Slaff characterized the climax as, "a showdown between a triangle of misfits who would rather fight to love than be loved." Asian-American performance artist Stacy Makishi has also contributed to the project.
Since the late 70's -- way before it was hip -- the Split Britches theatre company have been making lesbian-feminist theatre in the United States and Europe. Comprising Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw and Deborah Margolin, the company takes classic American texts, like Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and revisits them through the context of contemporary gender/feminist criticism. The shows not only lampoon their original subjects but raise audience awareness of subtle messages usually left unexplored in the texts.
Their largest success was probably 1991's Belle Reprieve, a take on Streetcar, which was a collaboration with British drag performance artists "Bloolips." The production had the reverse genders playing the roles, as when Shaw, a genetic female, played Stanley. The exception was Bloolips' Precious Pearl -- a genetic male who performs in female clothing; he played Mitch. Belle was a serious investigation into the gender roles -- as written by Williams in Streetcar -- of the ultra masculine Stanley and the weak, performative Blanche. Other plays by Split Britches include: Beauty and the Beast, Upwardly Mobile Home, and Little Women.
Split Britches' production of Salad of the Bad Cafe will play at NY's La MaMa E.T.C, Feb. 17-March 4. For more information, call (212) 475 7710.
-- By David Lefkowitz