Sometimes moments of genius strike when you least expect them. That was certainly the case with Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche, the play that originated as a joke at a party attended by members of Chicago's New Colony theater company. Company member Andrew Hobgood threw out the name one night, and it made people laugh. When New Colony was asked to submit a short play for Chicago's Collaboraction Play Festival, they entered the title with a short, offhand description: Five widowed lesbians are having breakfast when the commies attack. The play went on to win best piece in the festival along with the audience award. "People just couldn't get enough of the lesbians," says co-writer and New Colony founding member Evan Linder, a 2004 College of Charleston graduate. "They love the lesbians."
What If? Productions is bringing Five Lesbians to Charleston for its local debut, and it's also been sold to six other companies so far. Linder says the show, which has been expanded since its original incarnation, has been the New Colony's biggest crowd-pleaser since the company was founded four years ago. "The stupidest show we've ever created ended up being one of our best-reviewed shows we've ever done," Linder says. "It's great. It's enormously silly. We've never denied that."
The New Colony is a Chicago-based new works theater company that produces only world-premiere plays written in-house. The 28 company members — which also includes CofC grads Henry Riggs, Ashley Woolfe, and Will Caveto — regularly churn out an assortment of plays from all genres. Five Lesbians is their only straight-ahead comedy — no pun intended.
Many of Linder's fellow founding members came from Chicago's Annoyance Theatre, so they used that company's model — and their improvisational skills — for creating their plays. "We usually start with a story outline or idea, then we bring in the characters and start work-shopping before a page of the script is even written," he says. "So while the show is being written, the playwright sort of has a road map of who the characters are that they're writing for, because the actors have already come in and shown us who those characters are."
Linder wrote one of the company's first plays, Frat, based on his experiences with Greek life at CofC. And just prior to Five Lesbians, he co-wrote a piece about a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. (one of the company members is a survivor), so they were ready for something a little more light-hearted.
"We didn't know how niche the show would be, but it ended up being universally a loved show by so many different sectors of our audience," Linder says. "We thought, who else is going to think this is a funny as we do? We are going to be the only people laughing at this ... But everybody across the board ended up liking it."
The play doesn't necessarily have a gay-rights agenda, but it does depict the widows' coming out. "They are definitely lesbians," he says. "They don't quite know that yet at the beginning of the show, or at least haven't had the courage to say it, but over the course of the show they come in some really funny ways to realize that maybe they do like women."
The local production stars Beth Curley (What If's Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Andrea Conway (What If's Durang, Durang), Village Playhouse regulars Becca Anderson and Abby Campbell, and Susan Catwinkle, a CofC professor who taught Linder during his tenure.