The main stage at the Goethe Institut is set like a Southern living room — a rocking chair, a small side table and what appears to be a glass of sweet tea perched atop it. As I take my seat, Katy Perry’s unforgettable I Kissed a Girl begins to play, and I almost burst out laughing.
This kind of juxtaposition — the traditions of the south with the blaze of LGBT culture — comprises the high-energy, hysterical, and sometimes heartbreaking one-woman show A Lesbian Belle Tells!, detailing the life of its performer, Elizabeth McCain, and directed by Tanya Taylor Rubenstein.
McCain hails from a small town in northeast Mississippi, and the first half hour or so of the performance doesn’t touch on her later understanding of her sexuality at all — instead, McCain provides a view of the South that most people don’t get to experience: her family summer home, an old Victorian mansion purchased fully furnished for $10,000 by her banker of a father, her various boarding schools contributing to a strong education and firm parental guidance geared towards the thoughts of marriage and children. It’s the set-up for a seemingly perfect life by Southern standards, but it’s not the life that McCain wants.
Of course, when she leaves this environment, everything changes, and her experiences in D.C. set her on the path to a greater understanding of herself. Now, this can prove a heavy topic, often wrought with painful memories, but all through her performance McCain finds the humor, quipping, “What a relief — friendly encouragement to become a lesbian by another guy I’m dating,” and describing her first encounter with Cindy, an out lesbian “like a lesbian Rhett Butler, she swept me up in her arms and carried me upstairs…”
A Lesbian Belle Tells!
by Elizabeth McCain
at Main Stage – Goethe Institut
812 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
You could hear a pin drop in the theatre as McCain settled into her rocking chair yet again to tell the details of the funeral, and that’s where McCain’s true strength lies — she’s not so much a comedian as she is a bard, spinning stories with a beating heart that are at once comical and gripping, innuendo with the glossy sheen of clever wordplay.
McCain declares early on that she knew there was more to life than “gowns, crowns, and confederate towns.” A Lesbian Belle Tells! is a thrill from start to finish for audience members from all walks of life, encouraging hope from the comfort of a rocking chair, and leaving a roaring audience in her wake.