Brave smiles…Another lesbian tragedy, Bailiwick Repertory. An audience must be versed in the topic for topical humor to be appreciated. So when the targets of a satire are several generations removed from modern times, additional effort must be made to orient viewers–and sometimes performers too.

Brave Smiles…Another Lesbian Tragedy–written and originally performed by New York’s Five Lesbian Brothers, an all-female troupe–purports to spoof the cinematic tradition dictating that unfeminine women suffer some sorry fate. Over a period of two hours it both skewers and celebrates such romantic gynetopias as girls’ schools (specifically the institutions in the 1931 film Maedchen in Uniform and the 1961 film of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour) and women’s prisons (by way of the 1958 Susan Hayward vehicle I Want to Live!) as well as such sapphic icons as Amelia Earhart, Marlene Dietrich, and Jacqueline Susann.

But mock-melodramatic performances by five Chicago actresses, punctuated by a few lip locks and the obligatory heaps of weeps, quickly wear thin (though Lisa May Simpson does a nice trouser turn as a Gallic male impersonator). Under the direction of L.M. Attea, potentially funny lines are rendered lifeless by these undeniably talented women, whose familiarity and ease with these old movies appears no greater than the director’s or our own.

–Mary Shen Barnidge