MIDSUMMER DYKE’S BRAZEN-FACED VARLETS HITS 10

Jennifer Gembka as Hermia in Brazen-Faced Varlets "A Midsummer Dyke's Dream"
Jennifer Gembka as Hermia in Brazen-Faced Varlets A Midsummer Dyke’s Dream

BY ANTHONY CHASE

Last week on November 18th in the Main Street Cabaret, Brazen-Faced Varlets, Buffalo’s diehard feminist/lesbian theater company, opened their production of Shawn P. Northrip’s A Midsummer Dyke’s Dream, ten years to the day after they opened  Ramona & Juliet in the same venue.  It’s a time to celebrate. It’s a time to take stock. And it’s a time to plan.

Company co-founder and director Lara D. Haberberger describes the events that lead to the company’s move to Buffalo.

“We were working in the Washington, D.C. area,” she recalls.  “I had done my M.F.A. in directing at Catholic University in D.C., but it was very expensive for a fledgling theater company there.  It took a lot of money to rent a space, and because most everything in D.C. is Equity, you had to rehearse during the day.  [Actor] Heather [Fangsrud] and I had been talking about relocating when we met the guys from Buffalo United Artists Artists at the National Gay Theater Festival, which was in Columbus, Ohio that year. This was 2005.  They did Matthew Crehan Higgins’ Confessions. I was very impressed with their work.  Not only was the acting excellent, it was a new work.  We realized that a theater community that could support new work was a very strong theater community.”

“I was familiar with Buffalo, because I had done my undergraduate degree at UB,” says Haberberger.  “I knew Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Ed Smith.  Joyce Stilson had been one of my teachers. I had assistant staged managed the All My Sons that Manny Fried was in.  I had seen the Godot with Saul Elkin, and Jerry Finnegan, and Chris O’Neill.  Also, I am originally from Rochester, so it was closer to my family, without being too close.  Buffalo seemed ideal!  And so we made the move.”

Over the ten years, the company has had its ups and downs.  They’ve established a presence, mostly performing in the back room at Rust Belt Books.  They have garnered Artie Award nominations.  Highlights have included Ramona & Juliet, The Anastasia Trials, Oedipus, and The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman.

“We are members of the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo and of the Theatre District Association, and we have gotten our not-for-profit status,” Haberberger notes. 

They have also been able to define their mission. 

“At Catholic [University], I could see men in the acting program get better and better, just because they were being cast all the time,” says Haberberger.  “There were far fewer roles for women, and therefore far fewer opportunities to grow.  We wanted to start a company that would focus on the talents and concerns of women.  I think we have done that.”

Still, performing in a venue that can only seat 20 has been a mixed blessing, and the move to Grant Street has been a challenge.

“Obviously, the intimacy is a plus,” says Haberberger, “but the audience gets claustrophobic if we go for more than an hour. Also, when a sold out house means only twenty people, we have not been well positioned for audience development.”

With A Midsummer Dyke’s Dream, a playful parody of Shakespeare with a lesbian spin, the company returns to its strengths. 

“We are happy to be working with BUA,” enthuses Haberberger.  “Going forward, we hope to focus more on developing the audience and continuing to focus on women’s issues.  But we’re not going anywhere!” 

A Midsummer Dyke’s Dream continues through Dec. 10th at the Main Street Cabaret in the Alleyway Theatre complex, 672 Main St., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.  Call 716-886-9239.