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    Review: One Dyke’s Theater: Selected Plays 1975–2014 by Terry Baum

    By Tara Ayres–

    This collection of plays is a delicious read, really funny and often moving. I seldom laugh out loud while reading, but I did with this anthology. The plays also serve as a kind of lesbian feminist social history. If you’re a lesbian feminist of a certain age, reading Terry Baum’s collected plays is a bit like revisiting a wittier, more entertaining version of your past.

    In addition to the plays themselves, there is an interesting forward by Baum’s long-time theater crony, Carolyn Myers, which is itself a slice of history. And Baum has written a new introduction to each play that sets it in personal and historical context. I found those introductions fascinating, as a look into the nexus between the playwright’s life and her work; the plays stand on their own without explanation, but the introductions enhanced my enjoyment of them. Each play is fronted by a collage of posters from different productions, which also serve as historical markers.

    The earliest play in the book, “Dos Lesbos,” is consistent with much of early queer theater, with its theme of coming out. What’s different (and truly funny) about it is that the eponymous Dos Lesbos imagine coming out to their families in a variety of styles from Greek tragedy to restoration comedy to sitcom.

    Interestingly, while many know Baum for her comedy, “Immediate Family,” (1983) about a woman whose lover of 27 years is dying, is the most popular and most produced of her plays. It’s also Baums’s first play that didn’t draw directly on her own life. Aside from the obvious change of the legalization of same-sex marriage, the script really reminded me of how our views of our lesbianism changed over the years, as the world changed and as we changed.

    Perhaps the funniest play (among a lot of great comedy) is 1987’s “One Fool,” which includes the title character falling in love with audience member after audience member, before moving on to falling in love with a coatrack. It definitely contains one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read, which involves our hero performing cunnilingus on the aforementioned coatrack.

    And probably the most lesbian lines in the book, uttered by the Fool, after she suggests to her new lover that she relocate 6,000 miles to Amsterdam from San Francisco: “After all, love is more important to me than my friends, my family, my career, my country, and my entire life up to this point. And besides, I really like Amsterdam.” I want someone to produce this play again so that I can go see it!

    The other hysterically funny script is “Bride of Lesbostein” (2013) about a mad scientist who creates the woman of her dreams from the DNA of her 34 ex-lovers, each imperfect but with one perfect trait, the sum of which add up to her ideal woman.

    “Waiting for the Podiatrist” (2003) involves one actress who plays a slightly fictionalized version of Baum herself, and who uses hand puppets to portray her aging mother and father. The not-so-funny subject is the hellish world of doctors and hospitals the family lands in after the father has a stroke and becomes comatose. But in Baum’s hands, the story is both seriously touching and seriously funny.

    “Hick: A Love Story” (2014) is a lovely telling of the story of Lorena Hickok, who was Eleanor Roosevelt’s lover (and lived in the White House for most of FDR’s Presidency) but was also a groundbreaking reporter and investigator. It’s not a comedy, although I doubt that Baum is capable of writing a play devoid of humor, but it is sweet and moving.

    Baum describes herself as a slightly world-renowned lesbian playwright. Based on the work represented here, she clearly deserves to have the “slightly” erased from that sobriquet.

    Tara Ayres is a singer, writer, actor, director, and general theater geek. She served as the Artistic Director for StageQ, Madison, Wisconsin’s queer theater company, for 10 years, and was the theater columnist for “Our Lives Magazine” before relocating to the Bay Area in 2014.