Forget Hillcrest. Local stages are loaded with lesbian characters and this week our town became even more so with the opening of La Jolla Playhouse's Page to Stage production of Leigh Fondakowski's I Think I Like Girls.
Already there's an elder pair, knowingly played by Lauren Klein and Lola Pashalinski in Chuck Mee's full-on farce, Wintertime, continuing at the Playhouse through Sept. 15.
There's a pair of teenage lesbians-in-training (the matter is touched upon very briefly, never explored, and then dropped) in David McFadzean's Deep River, continuing at Lamb's Player's Theatre.
Meanwhile, at Diversionary Theatre, Priscilla Allen and Laura Bozanich portray same-gender lovers with their knickers in a sado-masochistic twist. George and Childie, in Frank Marcus' 1966 comedy, The Killing of Sister George, are as emotionally searing as George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The piece that tips the San Diego theatrical scales, though, is I Think I Like Girls, for which Fondakowski interviewed more than 50 women of all ages. When she talked to CityBeat, Fondakowski had just added six characters to the script, still undergoing daily revisions.
“It's pretty loaded up now,” said the 32-year-old playwright. “When you add six, you gotta, like, negotiate with what you already have and take out a little.”
Fondakowski, who was head writer on the acclaimed Laramie Project, has just revamped Girls' second act, resulting in what she terms a brand new show. That's what Page to Stage is all about.
“My theatrical mentors are people like Ann Bogart and Moises Kaufman,” said Fondakowski, “people who push the boundaries of what's possible on stage and do work that's both socially relevant and theatrically dynamic.”
Not your stereotypical grim and angry lesbian, Fondakowski admits to a secret side that comes out when people know her really well. “That's why I love making theater, because it can really be an expression of all the spectacle and whimsy and playfulness we all have inside.
“Girls has some sad moments, some serious moments and some darker material in it, but it is really a kind of celebration.”
Has writing and directing I Think I Like Girls changed her?
“Actually, it has,” she said. “I like to think of myself as so ‘out' and comfortable with my sexuality, but I'll be getting a coffee here in La Jolla, and someone will say, ‘Oh, you're at the Playhouse. What are you working on?' and I have this moment where I have to say to myself, ‘Take a deep breath' before I say, <>‘I Think I Like Girls. It's a play about queer women and I identify with all these stories.'”
Girls is really about how identity is constructed, how along the way one thinks, “Oh, what does this mean about me?”
We either take ownership of the answer or deny it, Fondakowski said. There's a character in her play that kissed another girl in grammar school. Immediately, the kid told the nuns, who brought the kisser's folks to school and delivered a lecture: “This is queer and you don't want to be like this.” Even at that tender age, the character refused to believe there's anything wrong with loving other girls.
“I was, like, I wish I'd done that!” exclaimed Fondakowski. “I would have saved myself years of grief if I'd just looked at them and said, ‘You people are crazy. I know what's right in my heart.'”
Fondakowski believes I Think I Like Girls is going to surprise and touch audiences. The characters don't just sit around and talk about sex and sexuality.
“They're talking about their life, the things that have happened to them, the relationships they've had, their struggles and triumphs and tragedies.”
Fondakowski's parents, also characters in the play, have had their struggles with her sexuality. “But they also look at me sometimes, like, ‘You're an artist? What does that mean? When are you gonna get a real job?'”
Fondakowski has a twofold dream for I Think I Like Girls. “I'd like it to travel to a lot of major cities, New York, Seattle, Washington and L.A. But I also have a dream of doing a cross-country tour. When I interview women in small towns, they're, like, ‘When are we gonna see it?' I've promised myself that someday they will.”
Immediately following Girls' final performance in La Jolla, Fondakowski and Laramie actors Kelli Simpkins and Barbara Pitts, featured in the Girls company, hightail it to Los Angeles for the Emmy Awards. The Laramie Project, which broke all non-musical box office records at the Playhouse last season, became an HBO television film, nominated in four 2002 categories, casting, directing, writing and made-for-TV movie.
Though the Playhouse tries to accommodate the needs of the Page to Stage playwright/director and not impose systems on them, Fondakowski and her dramaturge, Playhouse Literary Manager Carrie Ryan, have discussed having talk-backs following certain performances and soliciting written feedback through a program insert. Additionally, Fondakowski will be that anonymous lesbian sitting in a seat near yours. She plans to make daily changes based on your response.
The second work to be developed in the Playhouse's Page to Stage Project and the first lesbian themed work produced by the Playhouse since Lisa Kron's 2.5 Minute Ride in 1996, I Think I Like Girls continues Tuesday through Sunday, three weeks only, through Sept. 21 in the Forum Studio Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse. If you're 30 or younger, you can see it for just $10.