A Lesbian in the Pantry
reviewed by Eric Pliner for NYTheatre.com - August 2005
Reprinted from NYTheatre.com. Original posting.
Joe Latessa's quirky musical A Lesbian in the Pantry is built on a simple premise: that the word "lesbian" is funny. There's no more reason for what's hiding in the protagonists' kitchen closet to be a lesbian than, say, a clown or a frog. But that's part of the joy of this adorably entertaining diversion. Unlike many of the entries in this year's festival, Lesbian has nothing to do with civil rights or tolerance, focusing instead on an absurd and amusing fable, and succeeding delightfully in all the ways that a Fringe show should.
As a long-abandoned housewife, Lucy's mother (Kristen Freilich) spends her days crafting impeccable meals for her family of two. Day after day, however, the meals go uneaten while daughter Lucy (played by adult actor Shannon Strodel) disappears into the pantry to get condiments for her mother's creations. When hours go by and the meals repeatedly go to waste, Lucy's mother finally confronts her daughter about what's distracting her: a friendly, Birkenstock-clad lesbian (Hedy Beinert) who lives in the pantry but enjoys playing games, chatting, even helping Lucy with her spelling homework. When Lucy's mother dubs the lesbian an imaginary friend, Lucy barricades herself in her bedroom, refusing to eat or interact, and focusing on mastering the art of prayer. Left to her own devices, Lucy's mother realizes that there is more to life than what she's been experiencing, and she eventually uncovers a hidden wing in the pantry, wherein lives the titular lesbian. Without giving away the show's hilarious climax, suffice to say that when the three finally meet face-to-face-to-face, mother and daughter are in for an existential surprise that alters their perspectives on life, happiness, and food.
The music in this sung-through tale is pleasant overall (although the most memorable and oft-repeated tune bears more than a passing resemblance to the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl"). But what makes A Lesbian in the Pantry a true lark is the joy in the performances of its two stars. As Lucy, Strodel skillfully walks the line between adult and child, comically alternating between pouting and reflection, and belting her songs with aplomb. Clad in a cotton-candy-colored ensemble and looking like a world-weary Mary Kay saleslady, Freilich is hilarious, veering between sanity and insanity, singing gleefully and posing maniacally. These two actors are a treat to watch; we have fun because they're clearly having fun. The austerity of Laura Walberg's production design juxtaposed with Lori Mueller's fantastic costumes adds another level of frivolity to the piece, frosting the actresses’ already delicious performances.
A Lesbian in the Pantry is a small show, but an earnest one. At a 45-minute running time—and packed with an absurd story, plenty of laughs, clever performances, and one hilarious word—Lesbian brings FringeNYC back to what it should be: simple fun.