The old Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime,” contains the famous lyric, “Well, how did I get here?” You may ask yourself that question at the end of Richmond Triangle Players’ disorienting, ultimately satisfying and off-kilter comedy, “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.”
The show starts out odd and a little annoying, but in 75 brisk intermission-free minutes, it winds up in such wacky, uncharted territory that it’s nearly impossible not to love.
The setup is classic camp: The five officers of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are holding forth at the 1956 annual Quiche Breakfast. Presented with amped-up glee sporadically undercut by funny flashes of cattiness, the breakfast is a parody of everything 1950s-esque — buttoned-down, xenophobic and repressed. But when one of the Cold War-era’s greatest fears actually comes true, the resulting tension throws the ladies into a tizzy of panic, recrimination and revelation.
The production is thoroughly interactive, starting with cast members wandering the lobby before the show asking patrons what variety of quiche they brought and audience members getting name tags when they enter the theater. While the show’s campy aspects may try the patience of some folks — read me — director Dexter Ramsey succeeds by pushing his cast members to commit to the absurdity. Their interplay pulls the audience down the rabbit hole into weird and wonderful territory.
Nothing exemplifies this more than a scene in which Liz Earnest, playing Ginny, the British newcomer to the society, is driven to manic egg-loving madness. Her frenzied consumption of the prize-winning entry in the annual quiche baking contest is a highlight.
Ginny is driven to this crazed state by the capriciousness of the society’s president, Lulie, played with imperious perfection by Amy Berlin. The society is Lulie’s fiefdom, and her insistence that the meeting continue as normal, though the world has totally turned upside-down, expertly captures the zeal of small-stakes leadership.
Another cast standout is Maggie Bavolack, who plays the young, eager member willing to literally put her life on the line in support of her friends. Both Bavolack and Danielle Williams, who plays building and grounds coordinator Vern, excel at the improvisational, interactive elements of the production. In the midst of so many big personalities, skilled comedian Jennifer Frank gets a little lost in the shuffle as slightly addled Events Chairwoman Wren. But Frank has some fine moments in the short “embrace your lesbian identity” interlude that comes later in the show.
Technically, the kitschy, sometimes sickly-sweet costumes, designed by D. Mark Souza, are key to setting the over-the-top tone of the production. Lighting designer Andrew Bonniwell has the occasion to spice up things with some apocalyptic effects. And the set, designed by David Allan Ballas, is simple and functional with at least one nice surprise built in.
The script by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood includes a few clever double-entendres — and several more clunky ones — and some of its best moments are almost throwaways, like the nonsequitur-laced list of reasons why certain society members are obviously lesbians. This is a show that, if you give yourself over to the silliness, can be eggs-actly the remedy required for late winter doldrums. S
“5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche” runs through March 14 at the Richmond Triangle Players Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave. Visit rtriangle.com for tickets and information.