If Hollywood gossips are to be believed, female ensemble casts are wrought with jealousy and rivalries. But TMZ would be disappointed to report on the stars of What If? Production’s Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche. Sitting down with the five actresses for a raucous three-hour chat over drinks was an exercise in improvisational comedy, and it was immediately obvious that these witty women liked and respected each other — there are no desperate housewives here.
“It’s about trusting your scene partner, because with this show, every night is different,” says cast member Andrea Conway.
Conway received the script for Lesbians from playwright and fellow College of Charleston alum Evan Linder. Struck by the play’s experimental humor, she thought it would be a good fit for What If? and showed it to co-founder Kyle Barnette. “I knew immediately I wanted to direct it,” Barnette says. “It’s complete absurdism, totally original, and the ending special effect compelled me to meet the challenge.”
The plot goes something like this: The Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are hosting their annual quiche breakfast, where their motto, “No men. No meat. All manners,” is reverently upheld. It is 1956, and the sisters are faced with possible starvation and annihilation when the U.S. is struck by an atomic bomb. Fortunately, Veronica “Vern” Schultz (Sarah Wallis Craven) is the resident expert on atomic fallout and bomb shelters. Society President Lulie Stanwyck (Becca Anderson) leads the club officers and members (the audience) to a solution for saving humanity with just one quiche.
Easily, this farce could trip, fall, and crash into catty clichés, but playwrights Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood avoid those traps and choose to focus on absurd parody and clever histrionics. “Evan and Andrew use exaggerated stereotypes, but they are based on truth,” says Abby Kammeraad-Campbell, a cast member and recent CofC alumna.
The playwrights and the original cast of the New Colony production in Chicago advertently allowed for improvisation in the script, giving directors and actresses room for originality and to customize their performances for their respective audiences. “It’s a testament to the writing. It’s so structured, but then it allows for improv,” Craven says. These bright, quick-witted women know their craft. In a run of the show earlier this year, Curley says, “We were able to slip in a comment that fit and didn’t take away from the character. We could play off the audience.”
And that’s where the camaraderie among the cast members is most effective. “I got my girls — I’m good,” Conway says. “The friendly rivalry challenges and encourages us. No catty bitchiness here. I want to look as ugly as possible, as long as it is hilarious.”