Women Behaving Badly
There's something so utterly '70s about Jane Chambers's Eye of the Gull. Maybe it's all the bed-hopping that goes on between characters; or maybe it's just the brown braided rug and shaggy Afghan in the middle of the set. Whatever it is, this script about a series of lesbian couples who bunker down for the weekend at a New England bed-and-breakfast feels as dated as a lost episode of Love, American Style.
In Little Room Downstairs's production, Pat (Marcy Bannor) and Maggie (Heather Bryson) own and operate The Gull, a very private "we never advertise, word of mouth only" type of beach house. They cater to rich lesbians from the city who want a place to be comfortably alone, where they can go on long hand-holding walks along the dunes or lounge on the large deck.
Underneath it all, of course, lies a paradise in shambles. Troubled by tight finances and the hardships of caring for Pat's mentally "challenged" 27-year-old sister, Sara (Jennifer K. Earhart), The Gull's owners are barely hanging on. Overprotective Pat wants to keep Sara childlike; she goes so far as to set up a bed for her sister in her and Maggie's bedroom. Maggie, on the other hand, wants Sara to grow up, to become more self-sufficient and, most of all, to get the hell out of the bedroom, so that she and Pat can resume the love life they once had.
As written, this conflict is simply not compelling, not urgent enough to hold together two hours of dialogue. Thus, Chambers is forced to trot out a whole battalion stock lesbian types to fill up the play.
These characters parade into view as an assortment of oddball women to whom Maggie and Pat rent. There's Annie (Amanda Chism), a young woman who works at the fancy restaurant down the street. Pat calls her "the whore" because of Annie's frisky bedroom romps. Annie, after all, is stringing along a couple of lovers: She's got Royce (Catherine Pine) waiting for her back in the city, but here at the beach she's got Sam (also played by Pine). Sam's a low-life, lazy beach bum who lives off the women she pleases. She goes about wearing a white, ribbed T-shirt, heavy boots and a baseball cap, and she enjoys making obscene gestures with her tongue and fingers while watching gobs of bad TV.
Also residing at The Gull is Linda (Elizabeth Bannor), yet another trashy lesbian; this one has been around the block even more times than Annie. Linda is a blond beauty who wears slinky halter tops and very short skirts while muttering terribly jaded things about life, sex and love. She works (sort of) in the local gift shop and flounces about The Gull seducing anyone she can. Her lover Denny (Kelley Dianne) is an in-for-the-summer college professor. And since no one on this beach seems to be satisfied with just one lover, Denny too produces a second young thing -- Kathy (Elisa Garcia), a doting, overachieving and incredibly annoying ex-student.
Why rich women from the city would declare The Gull an exclusive enclave of discretion remains an utter mystery. It seems that the owners are constantly bitching at each other, and a lot of just plain nasty behavior takes place among the locals who bed down at this place. What's more, the Early American garage-sale-reject furnishings are hideous. Still, amazingly enough, two wealthy city couples actually appear on The Gull's front porch.
The first are longtime guests "frigid" Pearl (Catherine Douglas) and hot-to-trot Jessie (Sheryl Croix), who seem to have come all the way from the city just to sit in their room and not have sex with each other. They've been together for years and have tons of possessions, including a great house and two cars, but little else. Their love life is over, much to Jessie's dismay.
The most exciting guest is stage star Margo (Kelly Lauren), who struts onto the porch, straw hat in hand, with her lover Tally (Nickie Morgan) in tow. Margo and Tally are troubled mostly because Margo, with an image to protect, is deep in the closet.
This chorus of characters works hard at ratcheting up the energy. Unfortunately their problems are so minuscule and their behavior so infantile that they do little except provide a generic, one-note wail of irritating silliness. By contrast, Maggie and Pat come off as practically heroic when they decide to stay together and hammer through their problems. Chambers's weak writing is not helped by the performers (though directors Marcy Bannor and Richard Laub have done a nice job of staging the piece). Only Bryson's Maggie, Lauren's campy Margo and Elizabeth Bannor's Linda bring a nice balance of engaged energy and thoughtful care to the stage.
Written in 1971, Eye of the Gull was left unfinished when Chambers died in 1983. Vita Dennis "revised" the script for production in 1991. Some things, perhaps, are best left unfinished.
Eye of the Gull runs through March 4 at The Little Room Downstairs Theater, 2328 Bissonnet, (713)522-5737. $12-$15.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.