Title: Seven Days at Sea. Playwright: Martha Hansen
At: Light and Sound Productions at the Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway. Tickets: $20-$40. Runs through: June 5
A story set aboard a lesbian cruise ship in 1995 might suggest a madcap romp featuring svelte Sapphites in scanty undies slamming doors and brandishing sex toys or, perhaps, a "woke" sitcom about matched Jills and Joans beset by interruptions from family members unaware of the matrons' long-awaited wish for privacy. First-time playwright Martha Hansen, however, is not content to recycle centuries-old tropes of bedroom farce (although a dainty crayola-hued vibrator makes a brief appearance).
To begin, the characters that we meet are uniformly AARP-eligible, if not explicitly post-menopausal. Three of them were once married to men, one is the mother of grown children and another is an all-sexes virgin. Lifetime besties Teresa and Audrey say they're not even gay, but instead are just seeking a retreat from recent distressrespectively, breast cancer (now in remission) and a messy divorce from an unfaithful husband. "We hope that's all right with everyone," they apologize, to which social worker Bailey and septuagenarian Cora reply in the affirmative, with events director Gloria further assuring the outliers, "You don't have to show a membership card."
When confronted with a choice of meet-and-greet eventsone for couples, one for singlesthe four fellow passengers opt to attend the latter, causing us to suspect that they are embarking on this week-long voyage to Alaska in search of more than puffins, aurora borealis and starry night skies. While their goals do not exclude hot tubs, ribald jokes, moonlight smooches and some cuddling between the sheets, what most distinguishes Hansen's examination of sororal bonding is how little the regrets and uncertainties born of cultural convention differ from those rooted in hormonal impulse, and how delayed consummation is no barrier to support of contemporaries and promise of enduring alliances bringing comfort and resolution.
Margaret Knapp's direction of a cast featuring Hansen herself as the shy Bailey, along with an ensemble of Chicago's favorite women-of-a-certain-age actors, make for an auspicious debut of a theater company founded for the sole purpose of producing this intelligent, articulate and original play. To be sure, it could be improved by a bigger budget, smaller auditorium, a few more stagehands shifting scenery and an additional two weeks' run, but savvy playgoers curious about the changes arising from recent events have until June 5 to view a future where the legend of Damon and Pythias may be applied to friendship of every gender.