Lesbians, quiche and nuclear war figure in play

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The women of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein come out as lesbians and reveal that they care more about quiche than Cold War brinksmanship.

by Kelly Fahey

How many lesbians does it take to fend off impending nuclear annihilation? What sounds like an offensive joke that could ruin a social outing is actually the main premise behind Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood’s satirical comedy Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, which finished its run with Winston-Salem’s Spirit Gum Theatre Company last weekend at the Community Arts Café.

The performance is set in an anonymous 1956 American town during the annual quiche breakfast held by the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. The group’s central activity is the adoration and devouring of the most sacred of savory pastries: quiche. Their motto is, “No men, no meat, all manners.” That is to say, bringing a quiche that contains meat is highly frowned upon by the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.

Halfway through the quiche breakfast, all hell breaks loose when the greatest fear of the 1950s comes to fruition in the form of an atomic bomb dropped on their unsuspecting city by the relentless Russians. Luckily, Vern, played by Spirit Gum Theatre Company co-founder Caitlin Stafford, has gone to great lengths of preparation by installing a blast door and food rations to last through the nuclear winter.

Rather than lamenting the loss of everyone they’ve ever known or expressing terror over the fact that they are under attack, the sisters pine over the loss of all the wonderful quiches prepared for their annual breakfast.

In a fairly unexpected plot twist, the members of the Susan B. Anthony Society all decide to admit to themselves and their fellow sisters that they are, in fact, lesbians. At that time, they turned to the members of the audience, who were provided with nametags and included as members of the annual quiche breakfast, and encouraged them to announce that they were also lesbians, which they all did.

While this particular play is not very well known, it was a hit for the Spirit Gum Theatre Company. A friend brought them the idea while they were planning their second season.

“We read it and were laughing out [loud],” said Stafford, who is the fourth generation of actors in her family.

The production was small in scale. Only five actors made up the cast, and there were no set or costume changes. This lack of frills allowed the hilarious dialogue and acting to take center stage.

According to Stafford, the theater company had to turn to friends in the community to complete director Michael Ackerman’s vision of the production.

“Since we own very little in the way of set materials,” Stafford said, “we reached out to other local theater groups to borrow bits and pieces to make the whole thing come together.”

The Spirit Gum Theatre Company was founded by Stafford, Ackerman and Rene Shepard, who is taking a short hiatus as her first child is due in a few weeks. They met through performing in plays at Stained Glass Playhouse and Twin City Stage.

“When the three of us hung out as a trio, something clicked. We decided to read some scripts together and Spirit Gum was suddenly born,” Stafford said.

Although Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche was a small production, their modest theater company has grown considerably since being founded in June 2013. Their first show, A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, consisted of only the three founders, with Shepard and Stafford acting and Ackerman directing.

“I think we had an unspoken understanding that if our first show was a complete flop, we would have said we had a lot of fun and moved on, but it was a success and it motivated us to keep moving on,” Stafford said.

While Shepard is on hiatus and Ackerman takes time to train his new puppy, Stafford will continue to participate in productions in Winston-Salem including Into the Woods at Twin City Stage and Night of January 16th at the Stained Glass Playhouse until she directs Spirit Gum’s Next Production.