Last Summer At Bluefish Cove is not only a beautiful and inspirational play about love, loss and liberation, it is significant as the first major American play to feature lesbian experience in a positive light. While the situation of the play involves the specific circumstances of lesbian and feminist characters in the late 1970’s, the subject matter leads us to universal truths about the nature of love, relationships, identity, fulfillment, life and death.
The Bluefish Cove of the play is a summer haven for lesbians. It is the one place where they can shed the mask of conformity to a hetero-normative world and simply be themselves. The metaphor of the cove suggests a protected shoreline, safe from the rough violence of the open sea; still, the tides come in and go out. The receding tides carry away the traces of the past while the rising tides bring in the new, the mysterious, the world of possibilities.
The journey of Eva, who accidentally happens on Bluefish Cove while retreating from a hollow marriage, echoes the crisis of American Housewives in the mid-twentieth century. Betty Friedan’s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique, had exposed “The problem that has no name.” An unspoken emptiness afflicting women in the post-war era who were saturated with the message that their ultimate fulfillment could be achieved by serving their husbands, raising their children, keeping their houses and looking beautiful while sublimating their own ambitions and desires. For Eva, as the tide of her own experience carries her away from that life, it mysteriously washes her ashore in a protected cove of free souls where she encounters the possibility of realizing her own identity. Of course, this process is only achieved through risk and sacrifice.
One of the “free” souls she encounters there is Kitty Cochran. Within the fictional world, Kitty is the equivalent of Betty Friedan, author of the seminal book ‘The Female Sexual Imperative’ and figurehead of the growing feminist movement. But Kitty’s soul is not nearly as free as one might expect. As the leading voice of the feminist movement, her credibility would be destroyed if the public found out that she is a lesbian. Thus, she is the most threatened by the presence at the cove of a straight woman who might reveal her secret to the world.
The complexities and contradictions with in Kitty’s character point to the promise and the problems of the feminist movement at that time. From our 21stcentury point of view we can also observe that the characters are all white and middle class – a critique often leveled at early feminism. But within the class and race homogeneity of the characters we find an interesting spectrum of gender dynamics and social roles. Each couple in the play replicates, in some way, the traditional butch-femme power relationships of bread-winner and house wife, boss and secretary or sugar daddy and kept woman. Rae, who has been ‘married’ to the renowned artist Annie Joseph for nine years, tells Eva:
“I like to make a home. I like to shop, cook clean. When my kids (from her previous marriage) act up or Annie and I have a fight, I like to get down on my knees with a scrub brush and wash that kitchen floor until it squeaks.”
But the difference here is that these roles are chosen and respected without reinforcing the patriarchal system of oppression.
Today we widely acknowledge that gender is not a binary phenomenon but each of us contains a unique balance of testosterone and estrogen and along with it a unique blending of qualities that have traditionally been relegated to male or female behavior. In the seventies, this concept was just beginning to be examined. One of the remarkable qualities of the women of Bluefish Cove is their ability to live fluidly and confidently in the uncertain gender spectrum. One example is the most charismatic character, Lil. She integrates traits traditionally associated with men. She loves to fish and she is a ‘Casanova’ who shies away from commitment so she can play the field. She is strong willed and can be aggressive. Yet she is also compassionate, wise and tender.
Ultimately, the most transformational power comes with flowing and ebbing tide of love. Both Eva and Lil are transformed by it. In the process, Eva receives an education about the dangers of coming out as a lesbian, and Lil realizes the depth of meaning that commitment can bring. Finally the irresistible tide of circumstance leads Eva to the precipice of true independence. For her, end of the play is just the beginning of her life’s adventure.
The PerformingHeARTS project at Palomar College this year is doing a set of events based on Gay and Lesbian issues and history. Last Summer at Bluefish Cove was one of the first major American plays produced about lesbian issues. This play will be performed during the weeks of April 13-22. (You can find ticket information at: http://www.palomar.edu/performingarts/index.htm) By attending the play, you may write a 2-3 page summary of your experience discussing how the views of women and lesbianism presented in the play might be historically different or similar to issues today. This will be worth 1 point towards your final grade.
Now, for ALL the marbles, you may also go to the Performing Hearts blog at http://www2.palomar.edu/performinghearts/ and contribute intelligently and with at least a paragraph or two of reasoned analysis, discussion, or inquiry at least 5 times to the threads, that too may count as a point of extra credit. (Please see me about receiving credit for this assignment if you decide to post under a pseudonym.)
That’s right: This assignment gives you the possibility to get 2 of your 3 extra credit points!
How do you define marriage? What makes it sacred? If marriage = a loving couple committing to each other for the rest of their lives, who else should be part of the equation? Some people believe a marriage is only valid if done in church by a priest, while others are content to be legally married in a courthouse. Some couples want to have a ceremony to involve all the people they love as witnesses of the solidifying of their union. Some couples already feel committed to their bond but want the law to acknowledge their bond for tax, insurance, and other legal purposes such as having the rights of a family member in emergency matters surrounding their beloveds. What does marriage mean to you, and what could possibly threaten that meaning?
Some people believe that discrimination against one’s sexual orientation is completely different from discrimination against race because people are born into their race, but homosexuals choose to be attracted to people of the same gender. Those who discriminate against homosexuality claim that such relationship choices are not natural; while studies show that about 10% of the population of every sexually reproducing species in nature develops homosexual bonds. Also, many homosexual people have recalled being attracted to the same gender from as far back as they can remember.
What do you think? Is homosexuality a choice? If you do think it is a choice, do you think others should be able to justify discriminating against same gender relationships because it is a choice?
One of the first things that surprised me about Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is the way “marriage’ amongst these lesbian couples is talked about quite casually. My expectation from a 1970’s play was that marriage would not even be mentioned. This was 30 years before the LGBTQ community even considered legal marriage a possibility. Yet the women of this play frequently refer to themselves as married and consider their committed relationships as marriages. I think the world is ready to catch up with the women of Bluefish Cove.
Palomar Coffee Talks invites teachers and students to participate in this integrative learning project. Pablo Picasso famously described art as, “A lie that reveals the truth.” We offer performances and public gatherings that provide an occasion to analyze aspects of our society and the human condition from the multiple perspectives provided by differing academic disciplines. For the Fall of 2015, we are focusing on two questions raised by Bertolt Brecht’s provocative play THE GOOD PERSON OF SETZUAN: What does it mean to be a ‘good’ person? Is it possible to be good and stay good in our society?
Ways of participating include but are not limited to:
• Add your class to the list of participating by clicking here..
• Join us for our Coffee Talk on October 8th following the 4PM performance of The Good Person of Setzuan.
• Offer extra credit for attending the Coffee Talk and or a performance.
• Commit to at least one class discussion on the two questions and how they relate to your discipline.
• Contribute your expressions to a sculptural display at the entrance to the theatre in the Performing Arts Courtyard.
• Some possibilities:
o What is a good person? – in eight words or 144 characters. Make lots of these.
o Characterize the discussion in 8 words or 144 characters. Make several of these.
o Share a simple statement or conclusion that came from the discussion. Whole class or small groups.
o Generate a list of related questions specific to your discipline.
o Describe, express or articulate some of the pressures to act ‘badly’ or questionably that you have experienced. Individual or small groups.
o Help us create a site-specific public art piece in the Performing Arts courtyard – that will evolve throughout the semester.
o Share a response on our Tumblr page. Words & Images accepted.
Connect Your Classes
This is the place to share your experiences and analysis of Palomar’s Pride Fest.
This is the place to share your experiences and analysis of the Keynote Address.
This is the place to share your experiences and analysis of the Day of Silence.
This is the place to share your experiences and analysis of Between The Silence.