WOW, Women of Wilton launches its first production
By Oline H. Cogdill
Love and friendship, grief and death are timeless themes that are the foundation of the entertaining production of Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, now running through Aug. 20 at The Foundry, 2306 Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Last Summer at Bluefish Cove launches WOW, Women of Wilton, with the mission to showcase live entertainment by women, about women, for women. WOW, a division of Plays of Wilton (POW), teams producers Ronnie Larsen and Nicole Stodard, who heads WOW and directed Last Summer at Bluefish Cove.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, written by Jane Chambers in 1976, is considered the first mainstream lesbian play. Set in 1974, the play explores those years when lesbians were forced to be in the closet, keeping their attraction to women, their beliefs and loves secret or risk losing their children, their careers, being ostracized from their families. Yet, despite the nearly 30 years that have passed, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove holds up well. While, fortunately, lesbians can now live openly, a climate of bigotry still exists, adding to the play’s timeless feel.
Unlike many decades-old lesbian plays that were practically exercises in self-hate, such as The Killing of Sister George, the women of Last Summer at Bluefish Cove are self-realized, in secure relationships, with strong friendships, a deep affection for each other and good careers. These are women who know who they are and, while they cannot be as open about their lives during the play’s era, they are proud of who they are.
WOW’s production is elevated by an overall strong cast with some of the area’s favorite actresses. This is the epitome of an ensemble cast who make the dialogue feel like genuine conversations. The actresses, many of whom have worked together before, make us believe that these are true friends whose support for each other never wavers.
Each year, seven friends rent cabins at Bluefish Cove, a lesbian beach community where the residents form a family. But this year is different — Lil (a powerful Autumn Kioti) is dying of cancer that is in remission. Lil is determined to make every day count, enjoy her friends and even plan a future. Her friends carefully watch over her, trying to not to suffocate her or take away her independence but, in their own ways, protect her.
Into this lesbian haven wanders Eva (a strong Bree-Anna Obst), who has literally just left her husband, George, of 12 years, and who was directed to the cove by its owner. Having driven all night, Eva had inadvertedly stopped at a lesbian bar — which she thought was full of “business women.” The first person she meets at Bluefish Cove is Lil, who is fishing. The two talk and seem to be on the track to become friends so Lil invites Eva to come to her cottage that night for a party with her other friends. No straight woman has ever stayed at the cove so Lil assumes Eva also is gay. Then Eva, naïve about the world outside her marriage and insular life, spouts a few homophobic phrases. Despite Lil trying to rescind the invitation, Eva insists she will have a good time, unaware that the couples do not include men.
The presence of a straight woman upsets the other women who are concerned about repercussions. This especially worries Kitty (a terrific Sabrina Lynn Gore), a physician who reinvented herself as a highly successful author of a best-seller about feminism and female sexuality. Kitty worries that if the public knows she is gay and that her assistant Rita (a winning Carey Brianna Hart) is her loving partner, her book sales will plummet and her career as an author will be over.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove spins on the women’s conversations about life, loves, their pasts, and Eva discovers her true sexuality. These are women one would be lucky to call friends with sculptor Annie (Melissa Ann Hubicsak) and her partner, homemaker Rae (Leah Sessa); and wealthy Sue (Beverly Blanchette) with her latest fling Donna (Therese Adelina).
Stodard’s seamless direction keeps the talky production moving. Doubling as costume designer, Stodard has a fine eye for dressing her cast in period appropriate outfits. Kitty’s flowered bell bottoms! Rae’s playsuit! Rita’s colorful dresses! Oh yeah! These groovy clothes are well remembered.
The set design by Melquisedel Dominguez evokes a comfortable beach-side cottage with the single set tidily separated into a lake, a patio, a kitchen, a living area and a bedroom. The shabby chic design with its white beach wood background invites one to sit, talk, share a drink and soak up a relaxation. Lighting by Preston Bircher enhances the set.
Clocking in at two hours, 20 minutes, the script would benefit from a 15- or 20-minute trim. Still, it is never dull.
Here’s hoping the partnership of Stodard and Larsen continues for many productions.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, presented by WOW, Women of Wilton, runs through Aug. 20 at The Foundry, 2306 Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors. Tickets range from $27.50 to $37.50. Running time two hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. Times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets contact https://www.tickettailor.com/events/ronnielarsenpresents/954327.