For director Sharon Veselic, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is a trip back in time creatively.
“I did this show 30 years ago in New York City. I was a stage manager, and I had no idea how important a show it was,” Veselic said. “I thought it was just another show.”
When the drama by Jane Chambers debuted in New York City, it was 1980. The AIDS epidemic was just beginning to emerge in America. Gay people were starting to gain visibility. And Chambers, a playwright and television screenwriter, broke ground with Bluefish Cove, a bittersweet play about a group of lesbians and their last summer at their beachside retreat.
Veselic is typically at the helm of big Rogers & Hammerstein musicals for Denton Community Theatre. Bluefish Cove is a change of pace — and budget.
For starters, it’s at the PointBank Black Box Performing Arts Center, a humble space that seats maybe 100 people at the most.
“I’ve been up here for years doing the musicals because I love them,” Veselic said. “But recently I started wondering what kind of shows we might do for women. How many times can you do Steel Magnolias? It’s a wonderful show, but it’s done a lot. There’s not a whole lot out there for women.”
Bluefish Cove launched the career of Jean Smart (Designing Women), and also gave actress Susan Sullivan (Castle) a chance to show she was more than a gorgeous blonde.
Bluefish Cove explores the tectonic shift in the life of recent divorcee Eva as she joins a secret little burgh inhabited by a group of lesbian couples and Lil, a smart and charming single who’s dated a few of her beachfront friends. Eva takes a shine to Lil. Lil reciprocates, but keeps a crucial secret that seems destined to devastate Eva.
Veselic said returning to the play made her appreciate Chambers’ story. The characters are gay women for whom being out and proud comes with serious risks, but it’s a love story with self-discovery at the heart of the story.
“I’m so sick of Rent and The Laramie Project,” Veselic said. Both have been important works in American theater, but Bluefish Cove isn’t a big show about tolerance or equal rights.
“We’re not hitting the audience over the head with the ‘lesbian hammer.’ I’m not preaching,” she said. “What interested me in doing the show is the theater. It’s the story.”
Veselic led the actresses in preparing for show about honest, flawed relationships. Each actress talked about her relationships, and how they changed and challenged them. The conversations acquainted actress with actress, and helped each player develop the kind of comfortable, broken-in relationships that come from a sense of trust and community.
Kris Walters, as the witty and guarded Lil, plays off of Kami Rogers, who inhabits the role of Lil’s longtime friend (but never lover) Annie with warmth and honesty. RoseAnne Holman and Kelsey Jones are water and oil as the play’s December-May couple.
The role of feminist writer Kitty could have tilted too shrill, but actress Kristin Spires pulls back just in time, perhaps tempered by Jordan Desmarais’ depiction of Kitty’s secretary and girlfriend, Rita. Resentment flares up between the hyper-educated Kitty and the just-as-smart but younger Rita. In fact, resentments and insecurities bubble up in all the couples, but Chambers’ characters are still in the grip of love.
Veselic kept the staging simple. A dock does double duty as beach house decks and a fishing pier. Projections suggest a pretty cove shrouded by trees and hills.
Bluefish Cove’s bungalows have been rented out to lesbians seeking a place to hold hands and canoodle beyond the judgmental eyes of the public, and Eva’s arrival brings with it anxiety, even as most of the group members accept the straight woman in their midst.
Veselic said the shoestring budget has required the directorial team to call in favors and bring in some of their own clothes and set pieces.
“I think it’s fun,” Veselic said. “When is the last time you had to call someone to borrow something for a show? It’s brought us back to the reason we do theater. We do it because we love to do theater. I’ve got a wonderful cast and a great crew.
“I’m really happy DCT decided to do this show. There is a gay community here. And this show is for them, and it’s for everyone else. Like I said, we’re not preaching. And it feels really good to do something that gets women on stage in these kinds of roles.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
LAST SUMMER AT BLUEFISH COVE
• What: Denton Community Theatre presents the drama by Jane Chambers.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
• Where: PointBank Black Box Performing Arts Center, 318 E. Hickory St.
• Details: Tickets cost $10. For reservations, call the Campus Theatre box office at 940-382-1915. For mature audiences.
• On the Web: www.dentoncommunitytheatre.com
CAST AND CREW
Director: Sharon Veselic
Producer: James Laney
Stage manager: Morgan Gatson
Assistant producer: Connie Hay
Technical director/projections: Philip Lamb
Light designer: Ana Pettit
Sound design: Jordana Alexis Abrenica