Sometimes the identities we construct for ourselves become our prisons. This is the scenario playwright M. Cristina Garcia uses as the central conceit of her play, Lesbians and the Men Who Love Them, having its world premiere at this year’s Capital Fringe Festival. Garcia packs a lot into this dramedy—perhaps too much, as we jump from moment to moment so quickly that we are rarely given the opportunity to truly get to know and connect with her characters.
We begin on an unnamed college campus in the early 1990s in the midst of a demonstration led by Maria Alvarez (Rebecca Cohen) and Sandina Warriorwoman (Natasha Preston), who are on their way to the administration building to demand that the university hire its first woman president (a sly allusion to contemporary politics). Maria and Sandina are more than just partners in the Resistance—they’re lovers who live together and dream of one day co-owning a women’s bookstore. This is much to the chagrin of her father, Alberto (Pedro Biaggi), who physically assaults Maria after seeing a picture of her demonstration on the front page of a newspaper.
Suddenly, we leap ahead in time several years. Maria and Sandi have graduated, spent some time working in Nicaragua, and now jointly own Womb Moon bookstore. Maria spends most days working at the shop while Sandi rehearses her performance art. Maria’s carefully curated life is thrown into turmoil when Joe Perez (Darnell Eaton), the reporter for the campus paper who wrote about her original demonstration, comes to interview her about the bookstore for the city paper, and Maria realizes she has feelings for him. Suddenly, Maria—who has sworn she would never be a servant to any man and would always date women—is forced to choose between her heart and the story she’s been telling the world about herself since she was 9 years old.
Lesbians and the Men Who Love Them
closes July 19, 2018
Details and tickets
If this sounds like a lot in 75 minutes, please know that I left several plot threads and characters out. With so much ground to cover, the script is unfortunately forced to lean into clichés and shortcuts. Maria and Sandi throw out so many women’s studies buzzwords that they sound more like textbooks than human beings. And Maria and Joe’s relationship begins and ends so quickly the audience isn’t given the opportunity to become emotionally invested in their romance in any way. And, as speedily as the plot points fly by, the play is sapped of its momentum by long scene changes.
Still, there are some very bright spots in the Mediombo Singo Fofana-directed piece. Alex Diaz-Ferguson steals every scene he’s in as Maria’s sassy gay best friend, Frank Santana. He and Cohen have great chemistry, and the scenes they share are natural and often quite funny (there’s a joke about the acronym LABIA that had the entire sold-out audience rolling in the aisles). There’s also a conversation in which Frank touches on the AIDS crisis as a reason for Maria to seize the day and follow her heart that struck a genuine and heartfelt tone—I wish we could have spent more time in these moments.
Still, for all its structural flaws, Lesbians and the Men Who Love Them’s heart is in the right place—life is short, so be true to who you are, even if who you are changes in radical ways. In her biographical statement, the playwright mentions that the play is the culmination of 14 years of writing, rewriting, dreaming, and rejection between raising two children—Garcia, like Maria, rewrote her own story, and I hope she continues to hone her craft and find ways to bring her much-needed voice to the world.
Lesbians and the Men Who Love Them by M. Cristina Garcia. Directed by Mediombo Singo Fofana. Assistant director: Sally Roffman. Featuring: Rebecca Cohen, Pedro Biaggi, Sherry Lassiter, Natasha Preston, Alex Diaz-Ferguson, Darnell Eaton, Sherry Shen, Conor Donohue, and Hana Clarice. Lighting designer: Laura Goemann. Sound: Grace Weissman. Stage manager: Jamie Smith. Produced by M. Cristina Garcia. Presented at Capital Fringe 2018. Reviewed by John Bavoso.