The title of Jim Fitzmorris' latest drama, The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie, is racy, but it isn't long enough to accommodate all the crime, vice and prurience that quickly spilled onstage at The Theatre at St. Claude. Burlesque star Triple Lexxxi is preparing for the opening night of her bar and club a when beer purveyor, nicknamed Irish, drops by with what turns out to be an offer that's hard to refuse.
Lexxxi (Bunny Love) has worked long and hard to save money and build up the fame she's leveraged to open her own club. She wants to cash in on the dues she's paid, including trading sex for favors, and make the most of the time left in her performing career. Her lover and business partner is a bookie (Kimberly Kaye), who has complicated relationships with her clients. Irish (Justin Welborn) is interested in more than stocking the bar with craft beers, including selections from Rogue Ale, if anyone was looking for easy clues.
The action takes place in Lexxxi's dressing room, and the show included partial nudity. Lexxxi stores a collection of classic crime films on a shelf behind a bar, and David Raphel's stylish set was hung with vintage crime movie posters. Lexxxi and Irish are both crime movie junkies, and they banter about genre classics by director John Cassavetes — adding a few other pointedly dropped titles (The Godfather, Chinatown) as well.
References to 1970s organized crime movies abound, but the drama resembles Pulp Fiction and other Quentin Tarantino movies. There's a lot of dialogue, philosophizing and creative thinking with guns drawn. One strength of Fitzmorris' story is that the fast-talking characters are more compelling than the easy drama created by putting guns onstage. The tension built, but it didn't settle on easy resolution.
Irish is a former corrupt cop who gravitated toward protection rackets, trading favors with influential people and hanging out with crooks, strippers and whores. It's not a story of fallen virtue, as all three characters have been involved in criminal and exploitive enterprises and survived all sorts of dirty deals to get ahead. Corruption is environmental in this demimonde. The drama explores the trade-offs of pursuing love and money and warns against trusting anyone without an identifiable personal stake, preferably business interests. "Take care of yourself," Fitzmorris writes.
Lexxxi and Irish share an ironic appreciation of the burlesque concept of "the reveal." Fitzmorris' script is characteristically aware of and calls attention to language, often conspicuously savoring a double entendre or turn of phrase. At times the piece is too wordy, but the crime scheme is complicated and compelling, and the show breezed by in 75 minutes without an intermission.
It's never really convincing that Lexxxi and the bookie love each other in anything but superficial ways, though the drama seems to need their bond to be meaningful and at times heated. The acting was generally sharp, and Welborn had brilliant moments handling Irish's entertaining deal-making under duress — as well as a couple of stumbles keeping up with its pace. Bunny Love is an experienced burlesque performer and is comfortable in Lexxxi's skin, though her burlesque costume seems odd, splitting the difference between glamorous old burlesque and neon stripper ware.
The Killing of a Lesbian Bookie was a fast-paced, fun dive into the underworld. It's got a smart plot, enough surprises to keep it lively and plenty of guilty pleasures. It courted and then rose above easy titillation.