It’s strange that, even though it’s 2016, it’s still shocking to witness women pursuing their own pleasure.
On the opening night of June, Savage Umbrella’s new work centering on a secret lesbian bar in the 1950s, two people in the front row walked out during the first act, and more people left at intermission. While it’s unknown why these audience members chose to leave, could it be that women’s desire is still something people get squeamish about? Has Savage Umbrella managed to hit on the last taboo in American society? Perhaps.
There are no men in June, now playing at the Southern Theater. We don’t see the women in their day-to-day lives, hiding their sexual orientation from the outside world. Instead, we are immersed in the heart of their secret society, where they assume roles of femme and butch, and sometimes push against the limits of that dichotomy.
The lead storyline between June (Leslie Vincent), a shy newcomer who falls for the sweet-voiced singer Mae (Emily Dussault), is actually the least interesting in the play. The main couple are upstaged by the fascinating transformation of fast-talking bartender Lil, played with considerable versatility by Kathryn Fumie, and the duplicitous housewife Dottie, played by Laura Leffler-McCabe (who co-wrote the script with creator/director Hannah Holman). There are plenty of other subplots as well, as the various bar-goers and staff fall in and out of love with each other. The Southern Theater’s vast stage doesn’t serve this particular piece, especially without much set design to create the semblance of a hidden, covert world (there’s no set designer listed in the program). The mood, however, is established by the extensive use of herbal cigarettes, which are smoked by almost all of the characters throughout the play, creating a sense of suffocation. The constricting undergarments, including pointy bras and stomach-sucking girdle/panty hybrids, also help add to the feeling of restriction in the women's lives.
At nearly two and a half hours, June is a bit too long; trimming some of the sing-songy monologues could help. There are dance elements as well, which enable the piece to embrace larger themes, and speak to the danger of the time period for these women better than the sections that are rooted in realism. The second act works better than the first, as Holman allows for more abstraction and movement to propel the story.
As for the play’s eroticism, it feels brave for Savage Umbrella to take such an unflinching look at the arousal and desire of female bodies without objectification.
IF YOU GO:
Through February 26
See here for a complete schedule.