Beebo.jpgAnn Bannon’s 1950s lesbian pulp novels, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, have long been beloved for their vivid portrayal of secretive homosexual subcultures in ultra-repressed America. The series has been recently adapted for the stage by Hourglass Group; their production charts the parallel lives of two amorous sorority sisters who painfully part ways after graduation. Beth settles down and starts a family; Laura heads to New York where, after a torrid affair with the titular Beebo – the Donna Juan of the lesbian bar scene – she is able to ultimately embrace her sexuality. When, years later, Beth breaks her bonds of domestication and tracks Laura down, she’s subjected to a traumatic tour of a life that might have been hers.

Using just a few simple set pieces – the most prominent being an imposing platform bed – the stellar cast presents an ultimately affecting tribute to the solidarity of outcasts. OBIE-winner David Greenspan is as engaging as ever in his turn as a sort of gay Mother Hen to the neophyte Laura, played with great grace and wit by Marin Ireland. Autumn Dornfeld is bracing as the anguished, housebound Beth, while Bill Dawes and Carolyn Baeumler demonstrate their versatility with several pitch-perfect supporting roles. But this is Beebo Brinker’s world – the rest of them just sleep in it. As the butch Beebo, Anna Foss Wilson hilariously commands the stage with a rough charisma that had the audience in stitches.

Though the performances are somewhat stylized to accommodate the 50s idiom of the source material, the cast never succumbs to broad camp. In the wrong hands, The Beebo Brinker Chronicles might have amounted to little more than a tiresome, winking commentary on Eisenhower-era depictions of homosexual life. The narrative does sashay on a little longer than necessary, but by playing the story straight Hourglass Group unearths a real tenderness buried beneath the melodrama. The production has been extended through October 28th at The Fourth Street Theatre [83 East 4th St]. Tickets cost $35.