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Review of Bar Dykes

Bar Dykes – a one act play by Merril Mushroom
Link for tickets: https://www.tososnyc.org

by DiAnna Fitztola

The year is 1958, when women were still called girls, and many lesbians were playing butch/femme roles to navigate their lives and desires. The tension women experienced having to keep their lesbian identity under wraps outside the bar plays out in relationship drama, family rejections, and the fear of being harassed, assaulted, and possibly arrested. Merril Mushroom animates all of these tensions to the audience of Bar Dykes, currently being staged in New York City at The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), the oldest and longest producing LGBTQ+ theatre company. Mushroom also shows characters who love and laugh and dance and defy society’s constraints.


PHOTO CREDIT: Mikiodo

The women onstage in Bar Dykes embody butches and femmes as well as a couple of characters who “switch.” The multiracial cast strays from the reality of the segregated social scenes of 1958 but it works to bring the lived experience of lesbians to a wider audience. Throughout the play, lesbians see reflections of themselves. Linda struts and cruises femmes. Joyce breaks down when her mother learns that Joyce is gay (both women and men used “gay” then). Elaine, a new girl in town, is shy and nervous when approaching the more sophisticated Cynthia.

The entwined stories of the women in Bar Dykes reveal who dated who before now, who wishes they could get back together, and how this bar is one of the few places to be fully themselves. Within the play are a vibrant array of women: regulars and newbies, fragile and cocky, eager and reticent. The bartender, Bo, oversees everyone with a slight smirk, a practiced distance, and an eye to sort out trouble before it goes too far, most of the time.

The set features the bar on one side and the jukebox on the other, with formica and chrome tables in between. The lighting is wonderful; lighting and sound transitions show time passing effectively.


PHOTO CREDIT: Mikiodo

The show isn’t perfect. At times, the pacing of the dialogue feels rushed, especially since the action takes place all in one night. The staging is in the “round,” which allows for intimacy with the action but also inhibits some audience members from seeing fully (the back row of seats is not raised up for all sections). Some of the characters are less believable and given very little to say. It was obvious the actors were not regular smokers (in 1958 everyone smoked at the bar), though I appreciated the use of e-cigarettes that could be “lit” and used in all the ways that cigarettes were used for connection, flirtation, and timing of conversations. Overall, the depiction of what was known as a “girl bar,” is believable, and the progression of the night from first-drink flirtation through late-night drunken fighting feels all-too-relatable.

If you’re in NYC, go see Bar Dykes. We need to remember not only who we were, but how far we have come. It has been 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, and lesbians are still fighting for our rights as full human beings. In Bar Dykes, we can see that not only have we come out of the darkness and secrecy of the bar, we also have come a long way in understanding our worth and having pride in who we are and how we love.

PHOTO CREDIT: Mikiodo

"Empowerment comes from ideas."

Gloria Anzaldúa

"Your silence will not protect you."

Audre Lorde

"Live your lives, honorably and with dignity."

Andrea Dworkin