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Smart lesbians
head for Bluebonnet Court 

Smart lesbians
head for Bluebonnet Court 


Sassy and surprising, Zsa Zsa Gershick's Bluebonnet Court tells a World War II-era lesbian love story that grabs the heart and holds on tight

It's 1944. Helen Burke (Leslie Cohen) is a career-gal Hearst reporter driving out to Hollywood to ditch the dailies for a plum job as a contract writer for MGM. One car crash later, however, Helen finds herself stranded in sweltering Austin, Tex., in a ramshackle little bungalow-style motel called Bluebonnet Court. Its denizens are startled--some less discreetly than others--to meet an actual emissary from the land of big bands and cafe society that reach here only as figments of the radio.

Lila Jean, the Bluebonnet's proprietor, heads up the pecking order. Embodied by Jamey Hood as a cross between Amanda Wingfield and Gracie Allen, Lila Jean is edgy but in charge, dispensing iced tea to her perpetually drunk ex-soldier husband Roy Glenn (Jonathan Nail) and orders to her quiet black maid-of-all-work, Orna Mae (Dalila Ail Rajah). It all looks very dusty and redneck and easily dismissed. Helen quickly learns better.

Culture clashes multiply not just because Miss Burke (nee Berkowitz) is a Jew from New York City but because underneath her smart Eisenhower jackets beats the heart of a lovelorn, if much-bedded, lesbian--and because the Bluebonnet's residents are nowhere near as slow as they seem. It seems unfair to dish out specifics of this lesbian romance from the closeted days of yesterqueer. It's too much fun to watch the story unfold. But playwright Zsa Zsa Gershick has cannily salted the love story with real obstacles of race, religion, and class. And she knows better than to bypass the needs of her supporting characters in order to serve her leading ladies.

The high quality of this production reflects the long march of its creative team. Executive-produced with professionalism and flair by Elissa Barrett (Gershick's off-stage wife), Bluebonnet Court got its first vote of confidence many months ago, when Barrett and Gershick sent the script off to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, hoping for comments. The Newmans responded with $10,000 seed money.

The Bluebonnet team has deployed that resource--and a lot more--to maximum advantage. Period sets and costumes feel solid, not skimpy. Performances range from capable to outstanding. Where another actor would just milk the Southern accent, Hood finds flashes of comic gold as Lila Jean. Nail works hard to reveal the wounded boy beneath the squinty-eyed "dipsomaniac" Roy Glenn. Ali Rajah brings a lovely presence to Orna Mae--a character whose complex negotiations with prejudice and inner authenticity are perceptively presented. Best of all is Cohen as Helen. The character is a joy, and the actress, herself a recent transplant from New York, doesn't miss a trick.

Bits of startlingly good direction from Kelly Ann Ford compensate for the production's few wrong turns. And Gershick--who's won acclaim for tracking the lives of our lesbian foremothers in books like Gay Old Girls--can really write. With just a little more work, Bluebonnet Court could find itself thriving Off-Broadway.

Bluebonnet Court Thursdays-Saturdays 8 p.m. Sundays 3 p.m. Through Sun., Aug. 27

Hudson Mainstage Theatre 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90038 Tickets $25 (323) 960-7721

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Anne Stockwell