Pulp at Stray Cat Theatre puts the sass of dyke-y dimestore novels on stage

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Phoenix New Times

I practically forgot where I was the other night (I was at Stray Cat Theatre, watching their production of Pulp)
once the play commenced and Johanna Carlisle got busy playing a Sapphic
saloon owner named Vivian Blaine. Carlisle always shines like a beacon,
even when she's appearing in crap, which Patricia Kane's charming
one-act certainly is not.

grand performance elevates an already fine script that celebrates and
gently ribs the lesbian pulp fiction of the '50s and '60s. Kane has a
keen sense of camp and a historian's insight into what was so
delightfully wrong about this literary sub-genre. That she manages to
craft an entirely original story (about a group of lovelorn lesbians
working in a "ladies' club" in the '50s) that plays as though she
lifted it wholesale from a dyke-y dimestore novel proves her mettle,
and that the laughs are pointed straight at the audience like a
two-headed dildo is not only amusing but unfortunately necessary, since
lesbians will flock to Kane's play, while it's gay men who tend to have
a thing for camp. The audience with whom I watched Pulp proved
this: Although there were dozens of laugh-worthy lines, the loudest
guffaws came in response to a crack about lesbians moving in together
after knowing one another only two days — truly the oldest lesbian joke
on record.

The audience
was helped in finding its laughs by director Ron May, who kept the pace
quick and efficient, and by musical director Terre Steed, without whom
this would have been half a play. His musical cues provided droll punch
lines to already amusing text, and his piano accompaniment on each of
the musical numbers was expert.

I have a
lesbian crush on Katie Harroff, who, according to her playbill bio, is
finishing up an MFA in performance at ASU. I hope Ms. Harroff plans to
apply that degree on local stages, which desperately need her megawatt
smile and beguiling way with a monologue. Anyone who can repeat the
line "I'm a lesbian, pure and simple; I make no bones about it" over
and over again without annoying me (and an audience full of kd lang
clones!) has a rare talent. So, too, has Tracy Payne, an actress of
Amazonian proportions and comic talent who brought the pulp novel term
"hardboiled" right to life.

Watching these
dames march back and forth across David J. Castellano's cozy speakeasy,
crooning and cat-fighting and enacting the trashy nonsense found in
10-cent paperbacks of yesteryear, made me want to head to eBay to buy a
couple. The feeling passed, and I've settled instead for looking
forward to what Stray Cat will bring us next season.