JULIANA 1941-1944 is the first book in series of books about the LGBT underworld of New York in the 1940’s to the present. It’s daring to stage a novel, word for word, pages in hand, but it works at the Duplex, gifting the audience with song and laughter and heartache. Each evening’s presentation is the next 60-minute installment of the book.
The novel was written by the playwright, Vanda. She spoke to the audience right before the show and said that she has always wanted to write a novel and now that she has done it, her way of introducing it to an audience is to have it staged as her first vocation is the theatre.
The story follows the lives of two women, Juliana, and Al and their love and lust for one another and the danger those feelings put them in. In the 40’s women could be arrested for dressing like men, and if you were not married the societal stigma was oppressive. Same-sex partners were just not an option. With all of this hanging over her head, Al gets pressured into dating a GI. It is what is expected and through these chapters you feel her struggle, her sense that this is never where she could be happy in her life.
The backdrop of the novel/play is World War II and the necessity of rationing that this country and others experienced during that time. One of the characters, Aggie, Al’s roommate, says that she is… “collecting drippings off the turkey so I can get it to the butcher tomorrow early. He’s opening for a few hours to exchange fat for a couple pounds of extra meat.” There are young men present who have come home broken, sent home to cope with their injuries, both physical and mental. One such man, Dickie, is Aggie’s boyfriend. Dickie was stationed in the Solomon Islands and though he is home, due to injury, and the war technically over for him he says,” It made me think of coming home… and the war being over. But it’s not over. This war’ll never be over for me.” It is a reminder how much that war took out of this country, our young men and women, and how simple things like turkey drippings could be used for bartering.
Chapters are performed every second Tuesday of the month and no need to worry if you missed any of the previous performances as the show opens with the actors giving a recap of what happened during the last show (radio style) and then a song. The song they opened with this night was “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” made famous by the Andrew Sisters. A really terrific rendition that had me humming all the way home.
At the helm of the book is our narrator Al, played so wonderfully by Molly Collier. I found myself immediately liking and connecting with her. She is an intriguing and most affable character, and has a great sense of humor for there is also humor in this. Lots of it. And though not all performances live up to Collier’s Al, the unevenness of them does not detract from the story.
During the pre-show speech, Vanda also told us that when she was in the eighth grade her English teacher wrote on a paper of hers, “My children will one day read your words.” She sent that teacher, now retired, a copy of the book. He told her that his daughter was gay and that he had struggled with it, but eventually had come to terms with it. He was sending a copy of the book to his daughter. What more can a writer ask for, but to inspire and remind that we are not alone.
Performances take place at The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street (corner of 7th Avenue). Subways: 1 to Christopher Street, A/B/C/D/E/F to West 4th. Bus: M20 to Christopher Street. There is no cover charge – 2 drink minimum. www.theduplex.com
Novel/Script by Vanda
Directed by Ray Fritz.
The cast features: Andrew Albighese, Molly Collier, Edwardo Furs, Tom Godfrey, Colleen Lis, Jami Simon, Annie-Sage Whitehurst, Jami Simon, Ali Ryan, Tyler Gardella and Tanner Maroney
Remaining Show Dates: (All Performances start at 7pm)
March 8th, April 12th, May 10th, June 14th, July 12th, August 9th, September 13th, October 11th, November 8th, December 13th
Running time: 60 minutes.
Juliana (Vol. 1, 1941-1944) by Booktrope Editions.