It’s time to induct Bruce Springsteen into the Queer Icon Hall of Fame.
While some may scoff and insist that he’s the Poet Laureate of Suburban White Dads, Springsteen’s approaches to masculinity, nationality, and longing shaped my own understanding of desire and ambition. Give the man his official jacket and membership card. Springsteen is one of my personal queer heroes, the Poet Laureate of Sad Grrrls Who Really Need to Leave Their Small Midwestern Towns and Feed Their Hungers—a theme that often emerges via the Boss’s tunes in Herland, a new play by Grace McLeod now in its world premiere at Redtwist.
Think of it as an updated version of The Golden Girls set in Michigan and held together by rusted metal. Natalie (Simran Bal), a recent high school grad, takes on an “internship” with Jean (Kathleen Ruhl), an elderly neighbor who is creating a DIY retirement home with her two best friends, Terry (Valerie Gorman) and Louise (Marssie Mencotti).
Alyssa Mohn’s set puts the audience inside Jean’s garage, an “office” flanked by unfinished walls and boxes of memories packed away indefinitely. Jean’s ex-husband, the lead singer of a beloved local Springsteen cover band, used to treat the space as his dudes-only practice area; he has since left and married a younger woman, and now Jean has taken on the space as her own.
The show lands on its feet thanks to its stars. Ruhl, Gorman, and Mencotti deliver fleshed-out performances that nail the loving yet acidic chemistry of friends who’ve spent too much time together and know too much about each other’s histories. While I think that Natalie’s character and her emerging sexual identity could be a welcome entry into the narrative for younger audience members, I found myself far more invested in the lives of the three older friends.
Terry’s pathway to self-actualization is particularly compelling. Now that her husband has passed, she feels freer to explore her queer impulses and starts dating other women, finally wearing the white suit she wishes she’d been able to wear to her first wedding. It’s a meaty part filled with quiet grief and growing self-awareness, handled gracefully by Gorman.
While Herland has a few awkward moments—a too-long dream sequence needs a great deal more volume and energy—its women-led, DIY ethos offers an imaginative spin on aging and allows its characters dignity and agency in a culture that often disregards them. While I wouldn’t call its ending happy, its painful truth is a reminder of the systems and families senior women are often up against. For a moment, here’s an image of resistance, a gotta-get-out-of-here tale straight out of the Springsteen songbook. v