Cast members of The Well of Horniness (cast photos by John Donges)
In 1928, the classic lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness was published. Written by British author Radclyffe Hall, the book, though revolutionary for the time, took a rather dire view of homosexuality – or “sexual inversion,” as it was called – amidst the turbulence of the First World War. Fast forward to the 1980s and performance artist Holly Hughes pens The Well of Horniness, a camp play that happily wades through all of the muck that characterizes the ultimate in lesbian cliche – butch, femme and all.
As part of GayFest this season, Quince Productions opens the comedy in previews starting tomorrow (Aug. 8). We talked to the show’s director Allison Heishman, an emerging young talent (she’s literary manager at Azuka Theatre) who just worked as assistant director on Angels in America at the Wilma (she’s also getting ready to focus on part two of the ground-breaking AIDS play set to open in October – rehearsals start this week), about how she’s interpreted the farce for Philly and how she plays with notions of gender and sexuality among female characters played by both men and women.
You recently came off of the successful production of Angels In America. What’s it like going from a play about AIDS to a play about randy lesbians?
Both productions, despite their major differences, have been fun and challenging. Coming off of Millennium Approaches and falling into the “well” was a welcome shift in style. In Well of Horniness, we get to just play and laugh and roll around on the floor looking up each other’s skirts. There’s a responsibility to the work and to the community, but at the end of the day with a play like this, it’s all about making each other laugh.
Compared to the 1920s novel on which the play’s loosely named (but pretty much reinvented), The Well of Horniness is somewhat madcap. How are you treating the production for today’s audiences who may think they’ve seen everything?
Oh, it’s completely different! I think Hughes took the sense of isolation and shame that is famously connected with the novel and just sends it up into this wonderfully campy sexy place. Our “heroine” is still running from her sexuality, but when you have her literally running from it, through the mountains, in heels, it has an entirely different effect! I think that audiences today will really dig the play, even though it was written almost 30 years ago; it’s so stylized and fun that as long as you’re up for the ride you’ll have a lot of fun.