By Sasha Rivera ’19
Positive and empowering representation of sapphic communities can be hard to come by in the arts, media, and entertainment. Standards are often lowered for these industries using the reasoning that some representation is better than none. However, on university campuses, especially in social justice-oriented liberal arts schools like the Claremont Colleges, there is more freedom to not only have great LGBTQ+ content, but to also give more opportunities to queer actors. “5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche,” a production at Pomona College by The Green Room, failed in both respects.
The comedic play, performed on March 23 and March 24, was about the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, a fictional organization for widowed women set in 1956, and its annual Quiche Breakfast event. Directed by Hershey Suri PO ‘21, the play features five characters–Vern, Lulie, Wren, Dale and Ginny–who are played by Miranda Mattlin PO ’21, Mia Kania SC ’20, Tyra Popovich PZ ’21, Sullivan Whitely SC ’19, and Carolyn Williams SC ’21 respectively.
During the breakfast, nuclear warfare breaks out due to the Cold War, and the members are trapped in the bunker for the next four years. Throughout the performance, the five women address the audience as fellow Society members who are trapped with them. Towards the second half of the show, the women, save for Lulie, come out as lesbians. Their love of quiche and eggs, of course, is a metaphor for vaginal oral sex. Most the humor in the play focuses on lesbian stereotypes and sexual innuendos.
The play was written in 2014 by two men, Andrew Hobgood and Evan Linder. Initially I interpreted the show’s humor to be satirical, but after discovering this detail I was disappointed. If the play had been written by queer women, then it would have worked as a funny critique of issues within the lesbian community and to make fun of these preconceived notions from society about sapphic people. However, the fact that the play was written by men completely erases any satirical or critical function the show could have had.
Watching the play was a very uncomfortable experience. The jokes about lesbianism were very crass and revolved around stereotypes. The attempts at humor were lazy, and quite frankly, boring. One of the jokes in the first half of the play showed the characters being outraged about the idea of having meat, specifically sausage, in the quiche. Sausage and meat, of course, refer to men and penises. Their disgust that any society member would like meat in the quiche shows major transphobia and biphobia.
Moreover, later in the play, while all the other women come out as lesbians, Lulie tries to voice her bisexuality but is continuously silenced. She is also shamed for having sex with a man and getting pregnant. Biphobia and transphobia are major issues within lesbian communities, but having those jokes told in a play that isn’t actually satirical can come across as being extremely inappropriate and in poor taste. Perhaps if the play had been written by lesbians, there would have been some genuine, intelligent humor.
A recent article from The Student Life referred to this play as “funny, provocative, and also inspiring.” The proof is not only in the quiche, but also in this review, that this production is anything but those things. TSL’s article stated that Suri wanted LGBTQ+ audiences to feel comfortable watching the performance, which was definitely not the outcome considering the bland, tired, and offensive jokes used. This play was an uncomfortable disappointment, not an inspiration.
Suki White SC ‘18 is a student who auditioned for the play but was not cast. She has made criticisms of the play for its problematic content, and has also raised the issue that some of the actresses were cisgender and heterosexual, while actual queer actors were denied the opportunity to participate in the production. White requested that her letter to the audience of the play be published in order to bring light to these problems.
To the audience of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche:
At the beginning of this semester, I was so excited to finally see queer stories being represented in pomona student theatre. I auditioned for the play, and it was clear that the director/production team had no interest or acknowledgment in casting or recruiting queer people to audition and or be in this queer-centric play. In auditions and callbacks, there was no mention of the queer content, nor open space on the audition forms (there were none) to include this information. They also didn’t reach out to any organizations on campus, which limited the queer people in the room. Because of this, straight women were saying (and improvising) gay jokes, which just sits uneasy with me. Although there are queer people in the cast/production team, that doesn’t negate that straight people are acting as queer characters, when there were multiple capable, queer, and experienced actors that weren’t casted or even made aware of the auditions. I wrote to the production team about these concerns, in which they never answered which made me feel silenced and unwanted.
I’ve been asked not to speak out about this, because queer people involved with the play have had an impactful, liberating experience with this play and the rehearsal process, and they don’t want queer people to “attack” their positive experience. This only deepens the blow, because that positive process could have been spread to more queer people if the audition process was different. I also think it is important to note that queer people can criticize queer people.
Also, I might’ve been able to reconcile this experience if the director or production team would have once reached out to me or recognized the errors of their process. It seems that they have built a false reality where they believe they are not at fault, because they “collaborated” with the QRC for a talk back that only allowed two audience member questions. Being a queer production on this campus means that you have the responsibility to listen and resonate with the greater queer communities at these colleges, not just the few queer people who were involved.
In Hollywood, the vast majority of queer roles are given to straight actors. Imagine if Call Me by Your Name, Moonlight, Love Simon, or Blue is the Warmest Color, had queer actors depicting these stories. In Claremont, we have the queer talent to do this! How radical would it be for student theatre to attempt to cast queer people for queer roles?
I hope you all push to support and attend inclusive queer art in the future!