Femmes: When radical politics collide with a broken heart

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The actors of Femmes: A Tragedy

In Femmes: A Tragedy, Marigold tries to pin down who exactly is responsible for her breakup.

She starts by blaming the femmes — lesbians who embrace their feminine side — then adds more and more people until she realizes that humanity is the problem.

The idea that "love stinks," as the J. Geils Band noted, fuels this clever tale that's one part anti-romcom and one part gender/sexual-identity lecture. The latter may be the production's weakest point, but its entertaining qualities overwhelm any sense that you're in for a PowerPoint presentation.

Marigold is a rabble-rouser who curates a monthly femmes-only burlesque show in Los Angeles. She's thrown for a loop when butch girlfriend Dylan dumps her for hot bartender Callie.

Dylan had been clear that theirs was an open relationship. But when she treats it that way, Marigold leaves behind her radical ideals, acting like a jilted lover. She pins the blame on Callie and pines for Dylan, dropping everything whenever she gets a text from her ex.

Even in LA, the lesbian community is small, with everyone involved in each other's business. There's conflict among the performers, Callie's friends, and those watching from the sidelines. Worse, Marigold's feminist creed is no match for a jealous heart.

Playwright Gina Young funnels all this turmoil through the planning stages of Marigold's annual crown jewel, Femme Fest. Young gets in some jabs at left-wingers, whether they're unloading strings of incomprehensible jargon or are immersed in a flame war after the Femme Fest lineup is announced.

Young also slyly satirizes the gang's politics, filling their dialogue with graduate-school declarations of truth.

20% Theatre Company often treats all of the jargony talk as coldly serious. There are times when the show threatens to grind to a halt with a femme history lesson. That hurts the finale, which mixes burlesque with charged commentary on race and inclusion.

Thankfully, the eight-woman company has no trouble portraying the ups and downs of love. Stephanie Messer plays Marigold as jealous, more than a little full of herself, and blind to Dylan's desires for an open relationship. Jill Iverson (Callie) allows her anger to bubble just below the surface.

The other performers give us a whirlwind tour of the community, from young and freshly out Courtney (Briana Zora Libby) to the sage Dutch (Amanda Hofman-Frethem). This gives Femmes a textured, real-world feel.

Despite flaws, Femmes is a bright and engaging ride through a part of the world that may seem exotic to some viewers. The key message — that we are all human beings no matter what groups we identify with — manages to perfectly fit the season. 

IF YOU GO:

Femmes: A Tragedy
Nimbus Theater
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Through December 13
For tickets, call 612-227-1188



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