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Last Summer at Bluefish Cove

Revival of this landmark lesbian play from the early '80s is no fluke. It's been a movie-trying-to-happen since the mid-'80s, through one aborted deal after another, and now the climate, hopes producer Judy Miller, is morereceptive. In any event, what's important is that playwright Jane Chambers' bittersweet odyssey still kicks into gear as theater.

With:
Lil ... Denise Crosby Eve ... Dey Young Kitty ... Jane Elliot Rae ... Rachel Chagall Annie ... Martha Gehman Rita ... Mary Cadorette Sue ... Maree Cheatham Donna ... Sarah Ann Morris

Revival of this landmark lesbian play from the early ’80s is no fluke. It’s been a movie-trying-to-happen since the mid-’80s, through one aborted deal after another, and now the climate, hopes producer Judy Miller, is morereceptive. In any event, what’s important is that playwright Jane Chambers’ bittersweet odyssey still kicks into gear as theater.

Seven lesbian friends, their idyll interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a female alien from the straight world, are cozily gathered for the summer in a cottage on the shore, at Bluefish Cove. By the end of the summer, nobody is the same.

And, yep, a recently divorced straight character (the wide-eyed Dey Young, who comes stumbling into this enclave like a daisy waiting to be plucked) has the love affair of her life (succumbing with remarkable speed to the only unattached lesbian around).

This production, crisply directed by Dorothy Lyman and vividly cast, delivers the requisite laughs, romance, tears and unremitting personal change. The play’s nominal centerpiece, Lil (the absorbing Denise Crosby, a Glenn Close lookalike), is the role that propelled Jean Smart’s career 11 years ago. The role is also the closest measure of autobiography in the play, and Lil’s offstage death from cancer mirrors the playwright’s own struggle (Chambers died of cancer two months after the ’83 L.A. premiere).

What’s revealing is that now the play can be seen in a fresh light. In the decade since its remarkable 20-month run at the Fountain Theatre (with the identical cast reviving it two years later at the Cast Theatre), one thing has become clear: The play is no longer a novelty. In fact, it’s hardly so much about lesbians as it is a slice of mainstream theatrical commerce that holds up on many terms. In this new production, tempered by time, the characters could just as well be men or straight women.

Of course, let’s not fool ourselves. The lesbian lifestyle here is the draw, although the comparatively tame goings-on (a few mild kisses, about as hot as that kiss on “Roseanne”) are hardly daring anymore. In the realm of movies, however (which are always a step or two behind theater), the rules of the game would be different.

The production’s flaw, derivative of much lesbian drama, is its veneer of archness — check out the queen bee aloofness of Jane Elliot’s resident intellectual when the innocent visitor pops up. But this production (which still doesn’t know what to do with the blank character of Rita, despite Mary Cadorette’s best efforts) is at bottom a mellow, sunny outing.

Martha Gehman’s pepper pot (the kind of larky character who used to show up in every sorority and fraternity movie), Maree Cheatham and Rachel Chagall lend distinctive flavor. And, not least, enlivening every scene she’s in is Sarah Ann Morris’ hilariously arrogant and callow sexpot of a parasite, giving the play a sharp comic touch.

Michelle Riel’s set design, with its gnarled front porch, twisted wooden fences and waves of sand and crabgrass, is redolent of a Long Island summer cottage.

Last Summer at Bluefish Cove

(Theatre Geo, Hollywood; 90 seats; $ 22 top)

Production: Judy Miller in association with Theatre Geo presents a two-act drama written by Jane Chambers. Director, Dorothy Lyman.

Creative: Set designer, Michelle Riel; lighting designer, Marianne Schneller; costume designer, Marie France; sound designer, MJ Denton; casting director, Marion Levine. Opened, reviewed March 18; runs through May 8.

Cast: Lil ... Denise Crosby Eve ... Dey Young Kitty ... Jane Elliot Rae ... Rachel Chagall Annie ... Martha Gehman Rita ... Mary Cadorette Sue ... Maree Cheatham Donna ... Sarah Ann Morris

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