If you’re looking for a good, sexy, strong story about lesbians and their deepest desires look no further: Lesbian Love Octagon delivers a search-for-love story wrapped in social commentary with a side of schtick all set to the lush musical numbers written by Kim Kressal (book and lyrics) and Will Larche (music and additional lyrics). Two hours with these women will have you smiling, laughing, and even wiping away a tear or two. Most of all, lesbian, straight, or any flavor of sexuality that is only yet being defined, this musical will have you nodding in recognition at the ins and outs of finding (and keeping) love.
The fact that this play is reflective of Lesbian Culture is both the whole point as well as besides the point. Because while this story couldn’t exist without the lesbians, this is really just as much a story about self-discovery, friendship, loves – both eros and agape – and the bonds that exist between women before, during and after the fires of a relationship rise up between them. However, “Lesbian” is right there in the title, so I’ll try not to let my own straight-gal lens narrow the focus or twist the intentions.
At the center of this very fluid Lesbian Love Octagon is Sue (Caitlin Lee Reid) who spends her time at the Lesbian Cafe, The Wimmin’s Bookstore, the Lesbian Bar and the Sex Shop down the street. A roving chorus of extremely pitch-perfect voices informs us that Sue – who has just been dumped by her lover, Darla, for Jerry … a female-to-male trans who also happens to be Sue’s ex as well – is one of the Lower East Side’s prize catches and this latest development will cause ripples all over the LES.
Those familiar with the late-90s NY Lesbian scene will recognize the cultural touchstones, but for those who don’t speak Sapphic the songs do a wonderful job of setting up a pretty clear picture of the lifestyle extolling and idealizing everything from Ani to The Hitachi Magic Wand. Catchy, brilliantly rhyming, eight party harmonies will take you through the New York Lesbian scene step by step … for those who already live the life it’s a delightful homage to the culture which has far too few songs devoted to it – at least songs of this strong a caliber.
And don’t be fooled by the titles of some numbers; “Pet Tranny”, “Dyke Drama and Tofu Scramble” may sound like songs written specifically for the buzz, but the earnestness with which these characters deliver their songs exposes a richer underbelly which can’t erase the complexity of each character’s core – regardless of how many songs are delivered with a wink or a tongue-in … cheek. Even “Vibration Salvation” could be just another stunt production number filled with sex toys, writhing bodies and over-the-top moaning, but in the hands of Kressal and Larche this deftly written number becomes pure carnal poetry – an orgiastic celebration of female sensuality and seduction, throbbing and wild with more jolts-per-second than the Hitachi Magic Wand it venerates. (And speaking of The Wand – one is raffled off during intermission so be sure to buy your tickets! Ten bucks will get you as many as you can wrap around your waist – a great deal for some of us!)
While Lesbian Love Octagon is admittedly filled with lesbian stereotypes from the less-than-butch dyke to the high-femme dyke (“an extraordinary story about ordinary dykes and exploratory story about stereotypes”) these characters are written with a loving pen, each stereotypical trait not so much exploited as celebrated in order to more clearly define the roads these women forged for themselves -the shorthand they created, the personifications they devised based on specific needs and wants which existed quite specifically outside of the heterosexual society. Here, in the safe, sacred spaces of lesbian bars, lesbian cafes, wimmin’s bookstores and yes — even the hallowed sex shop down the block, women who love woman can choose their roles or define their own. They can move through their social circles and create new dynamics with each new partnership they form, and as each relationship ebbs and flows an imprint of each woman’s spirit is left behind, changing the way her ex will move forward with a new partner. So, yes, stereotypes pepper this play – but only to explain how gender identity is constantly being re-defined as each new interaction spawns a new shade of expression.
To that end, “I’ve had it up to here / trying to define how I’m queer” sings Sue, bemoaning the fact that her ex, Darla (Kristian Espiritu), has just left her for Jerry (Jax Jackson) a female to male trans. Darla is known around the haunts to be somewhat of an opportunist, a gender studies major who is bisexual, and her motives are questioned and discussed. “Darla is riding the wave, surfing the scene … Jerry’s not a person to her, he’s a commodity” and although she’s the first to cry “No straight privilege here! We’re both still queer!” this grandstanding has Jerry feeling less like an equal partner in the relationship and more like Darla’s “Pet Tranny” (“Like I’m a pass for free Into any scene / When you’re seen with me … You wanted the late ’90s thing / Someone transitioning”).
As Sue moves through her days and nights she watches as her other friends struggle with their own “situations”. Another ex, Wendy (Lindsay Naas), is finding it hard to commit to her girlfriend Jess (Ti Grieco) as Jess seems unable to shake her own ex, Chris (Taneisha Duggan) from her day-to-day routine … emailing her ten times a day and still engaging in little tiffs. (Ubiquitous Ex-Girlfriend). When every ex’s ex is an ex of yours it’s awfully easy to get confused, sure, to the outsider. But on the inside of the octagon being one of the exes, or the ex of the ex just means that you have more insight with which to commiserate. Sometimes it makes for a specific type of comfort, but if you’re not careful it just may salt the earth where the new relationship should be flourishing.
When Scout urges Sue to create an online ad Sue stammers through her self-description, unable to pinpoint exactly who she is, even as she notices that all the wimmin she sees “all like hiking and they all like cats and they all like radical feminist acts / and they all like Ani and Sleater Kinney and they all like girls who write Slam Poetry” (WWWDOT).
Ironically, it’s Jerry who reminds Sue of who she once was :
I knew a girl / Years ago / Who was kinda goofy / With a boyish charm / And she loved B Movies / Skateboards / Joni Mitchell / And eggplant Parmesan …
If someone asked me to describe her / I would simply say / She’s a million things / And only one / Is that she’s gay
In the gorgeous ballad “I Am” Sue hits on the most important theme of the play, and of her story, and of every woman’s story -
Am I the same as Every other Dyke?
There is comfort in being the same
Sharing stories of love and of pain
We might all look a like
So a dyke is a dyke …
When it comes to the actual musical it’s as traditional as can be – filled with strong, well written songs that are catchy, layered and delightfully joyful as they do what all good musical numbers do: move the plot along and carry the deeper emotional twists of the characters. The lyrics are beautifully crafted and one can hardly stop long enough to marvel at the gorgeous internal rhymes and still catch the meaning – but no worries, there’s so much information here that even if a little gets lost there’s still plenty to pick up. And so, as the show comes rushing at you at 85 miles per hour, rather than duck you spread your arms wide and let this Lesbian Love Octagon wrap you in its embrace.
With every character getting their star turn it’s hard to catch your breath as each woman commands the stage in her own way. From Jess whose voice is big and raw, to the sultry purring of sex-shop maven Anya (Jenny Atwood), from the strong, powerful Chris to the earnestly lilting GG (Jaimie Kelton), not to mention extremely talented Scout (Kelly Lockwood) who has the ability to swiftly move the scenes along and command a variety of the bigger production numbers and belting Lindsey Naas (Wendy) who is impossible to keep from beaming at every time she sings. Ultimately though, while this is an Octagon, the center is Sue, and Caitlin Lee Reid is as undeniably charming, charismatic, irresistible and magnetic as she is meant to be. From her first moment to her last this play belongs to her, and she has us all in the palm of her hand.
So, now, enough of my girl-crushing. Go out and see Lesbian Love Octagon up close and personal while it’s still on the small stage because I guarantee – this is a show meant for bigger things if there ever was one.
Lesbian Love Octagon
A Musical Comedy About Dyke Drama
BOOK & LYRICS
BY KIMBERLEA KRESSAL
MUSIC & ADDITIONAL LYRICS BY WILL LARCHE
DIRECTED BY KIMBERLEA KRESSAL
The Kraine Theater
85 E. 4th Street
New York , New York 10003
2nd and 3rd Ave
Click here for tickets Price: $18.00