Snow Outing

Jane Chambers broke new ground when she wrote A Late Snow 25 years ago. Her very old-fashioned love story put a new spin on the woes and worries of amour. For though lesbians have always been here, few authors were brave enough in 1974 to give them a voice (despite television's Ellen, the subject remains a black hole in mainstream literature). Chambers became a sort of pioneer. And her play is still valuable today, if for no other reason than as a touchstone of the gay-rights movement.

With such handsome productions as the one coming from The Little Room Downstairs Theater, this play also retains some artistic value. Although no one could call this rather timid love tale a cauldron of wildly tempestuous passion, the story of Ellie and her emotional coming of age is familiar, touching and significant, mostly because it shows the world that lesbians have pretty much the same feelings that anyone else does. This small but very moving truth seems to be at the heart of Chambers's tender little play.

Ellie, as played with power and intelligence by Sheryl Croix, is the careful, quick-thinking head of the English department at an unnamed college. She has grown up in almost every way but one. She's still looking for love. And one weekend at her hideaway country home, she finds every kind there is -- past, present and future. Her past comes at her in the forms of Pat (Ellen Noyes), her alcoholic ex-lover, and "perfect" Peggy (Elva Evans), her blond bombshell and college roommate. Her present love is Quincey (Kara Greenberg), a fiery red-headed graduate student who's tired of living in the closet of Ellie's anxieties, which include her nervousness at being outed. Over and over she reminds Quincey that she could lose her job if her co-workers found out she was gay. Her future love is Margo (Marilyn Arnodo), a famous writer who has found in Ellie the kind of muse craved by great artists.

These women find their way into Ellie's backwoods love nest, a piney abode tastefully designed by Richard Laub. They arrive on the same snow-filled night through the kind of serendipity that only a silly plot twist from the '70s could get away with. No matter. How they all get here is not the point. The fact is, together these women force Ellie into a kind of reckoning -- a moment that asks, "Who am I, and can I have it all?"

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With Pat and Peggy, Ellie found passion but no commitment. Quincey, on the other hand, is ready to settle down. But with her, Ellie doesn't "hear the wind chimes" (an image that means erotic passion in this play, which shows just how tame these five women are).

Margo, however, is everything. Shy, smart, patient and wise Margo, the writer, is all that Ellie has been looking for, and during the course of the play she realizes that she's ready to out herself for love. I'm not going to march but I won't hide, she says. That's as brave and triumphant as this play gets. But in 1974 it took a lot to come out of the closet.

The performances are the real strength in this production. Besides Croix's Ellie, the most notable acting comes from Arnodo as Margo -- the waifish, intelligent, doe-eyed writer whose gaze and insight pierce Ellie's heart -- and Greenberg as Quincey, Ellie's young lover. Smart-mouthed and in love, Quincey represents the future. And Greenberg, with her red hair and dark lips, does a fine job of flashing her bright eyes in righteous indignation at everything asked by Ellie. She's funny and sad all at once and every bit the headstrong idealistic graduate student who would change the world.

And indeed the world has changed. Today it's become almost chic to be lesbian, or at least to know a lesbian. But given the small bit of mainstream work written on the lesbian experience in the 25 years since A Late Snow, we might question the depth and the power of that change.

A Late Snow runs through March 27 at The Little Room Downstairs Theater, 2326 Bissonnet. (713)523-0791. $15.

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