As it opens, The Speed Twins makes no bones about were you are: Dyke Heaven! A purgatory of sorts, set up like a seedy bar reminiscent of London’s now shuttered Gateways Club, where a drunken, lonely Ollie sits, head flat-out against a pub table awaiting something, or someone one, to happen. Enter Queenie, decked out in the not-so-finest pageant gown you’ve ever seen with a sash from shoulder to hip that reads “Miss United Kingdom.” Let the celestial realm drinking games commence!
Okay, there aren’t really drinking games, but Ollie (Jane Petkofsky) is happy to have a chum to toast, even if that mate is a bewildered elderly lady on her death bed, eaten away by cancer and wearing an oversized wig to conceal baldness and a grand sadness. See, Queenie (Nancy Linden) married a man and had a daughter, whom she turned out, never to reconcile with. She also had a first love, her real love Shirley—a blonde bombshell during London’s swingin’ sixties. Enter Shirley (Anne Fraistat), who is also on her deathbed, except she gets to show up in Dyke Heaven looking like her young, hot self. And, there she spies the woman for whom she never stopped pining.
The Speed Twins is a darkly funny and heartfelt play—if a bit draggy at moments, which tends to happen in dialogue-driven fare. But, don’t fret. The dialogue is often rich and authentic, with just enough humor peppered here and there. And painfully frustrating when it means to pack a punch—as when Queenie describes herself as brave in denying her lesbianism—saying about those given to smoke and commit sexually perverse acts with complete detachment from human emotion, that “You just have to change your behavior.”
The Speed Twins
closes May 27, 2018
Details and tickets
In her case, a terrifying accident on her motorbike caused her to walk away from Shirley, who then endured a maimed leg for life. The wreck, Queenie was left believing, was judgment for a passionate kiss the two had shared. Queenie is an exasperating individual who can’t, even in death, accept her true self—preferring instead to beg God’s mercy (which brings down the wrath of The Powers That Be—Lynda Bruce and Myrrh Cauthen). This distresses Shirley and angers Ollie—who is a butchy, one-woman vaudeville act (a la Charlie Chaplin or even a bit A Clockwork Orange) constantly trying to lighten the mood (and push alcohol) until she tells her own sad tale of lost love, saying “I’m worn-out with caring,” before grabbing another round.
Fraistat is a breathy, beautiful go-go girl that may come across as dumb, but her Shirley knows who she is and was and wants to be in the next life, because they’ve got to choose. Death is not the end. Just another chance to get it right. Oh, yeah. Purgatory is just a stopping point before heading into a new skin, and here’s my one issue with the show. Seismic shifts in who believes what, and why, rock the foundation of what has been established. It’s feels like a leap, and one I took with just a single foot. Linden does so well playing an uppity, self-righteous, tight old crone that it’s difficult to believe she can be anything but. Ollie, too, has an identity crisis that doesn’t feel quite right. This is really a testament to how well Linden and Petkofsky commit to their characters, establishing them so firmly as a non-lesbian lesbian and a dyke. I could hardly imagine them as anything but.
The Speed Twins is also a history lesson, leaning on the play and eventual film The Killing of Sister George, which in the 1960s brought lesbianism to the mainstream (though it would be several more decades before it was accepted). Whether Sister George was an accurate portrayal of lesbian culture is a different question, but it is undeniably a culture touchstone, just as the Gateways Club was. Both get their nods here, the play most notably in the mirroring of three female leads, all grappling with their sexuality on some level and playing to stereotypes. Now, I have to see the film.
First love. Real love. True love. And self—gay or not—these are the truths of The Speed Twins that make it a special show, one that explores what it meant to be female in a time when being female was, in itself, a bit of a sin. Queenie reminds us of that, and Shirley asks us to find that part of us that makes us fall in love because that’s where our truth lies. Once you lose that, just like Queenie, you lose.
The Speed Twins is, as are most Venus shows, a refreshing take on the female perspective that asks us to remember a moment in time and a time in life.
The Speed Twins by Maureen Chadwick . Directed by Deborah Randall. Featuring Nancy Linden, Jane Petkofsky, Ann Fraistat, Lynda Bruce, and Myrrh Cauthen. Production: Amy E. Belschner, Set; Kristin A. Thompson, Lights; Neil McFadden, Sound; Rose Ligsay, Assistant to Sound; Deborah Randall, Costumes and Propos; Erin Lee Hanratty, Dialect Coach; and Laura Matteoni Schraven, Graphic Design. Produced by Venus Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.