‘A Peppermint Patty Christmas’
Through Dec. 18
1823 N. Charles Street, Baltimore
By titling her new play “A Peppermint Patty Christmas,” Kate Bishop puts a queer spin on a holiday classic. Like the beloved Peanuts TV special of everyone’s youth (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”), Bishop’s piece in some ways explores the deeper meanings of the season.
And though inspired by the animated favorite’s freckle-faced Tomboy whose female sidekick addresses her as “sir,” Bishop has written a grownup work about a lesbian striving to strengthen relationships with partner and family.
In Bishop’s play (commissioned by Baltimore’s Strand Theater Company), girlfriends Patricia and Marcie live in Brooklyn where the former is a gym-owning jock and the latter, a brainy graduate student writing her dissertation on Christmas. Not a big fan of the yuletide, Patricia has vowed to change things up this year. When she takes her girlfriend to spend Christmas with her less-than-functional family in Dundalk (a working class Baltimore suburb), Patricia is intent on foregoing small talk for total honesty. It’s time to be completely above board about her life.
Bishop came out to her family long before she ever brought a girlfriend home for the holidays. Still, a lot of her play is autobiographical: Like Patricia and Marcie, Bishop and her partner of nine years are an interracial couple. But perhaps most importantly, Bishop’s real life experiences with family and her career as a social worker (her clients are primarily Baltimore teens who’ve recently been diagnosed with HIV) prompts her to write – often humorously — about real life. Few of us, she says, truly recognize the idealized holidays we see depicted on greeting cards and commercials.
Last June, Bishop began her association with the Strand when her first play, a one act titled “How I learned to Eat Pussy,” was produced as part of their 2010 Friends and Neighbors Festival. Jayme Kilburn, the company’s artistic director, was initially attracted to the playwright’s unapologetic and mature voice. She explains,
“I have read too many plays where the central character is a lesbian in high school and falls in love with a pretty girl, experiments, is tortured by her feelings of inadequacy, etc., etc.,” Kilburn says. “Although those plays have their place … this was very different from that. It celebrated the discovery of her sexual orientation and was a very positive and detailed account of her first experience with a woman.”
Not surprising given the title, Bishop’s play struck a chord with Baltimore’s lesbian, theater-going community. The show ran for only a weekend, but each of the performances was sold out. Lesbians were letting the Strand know that they wanted to see more work about lesbian women, so when the company decided to commission an original holiday piece (to add to its season comprised of plays all written by women), they went to Bishop.
A resident of Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood, the city’s cultural epicenter, for almost five years, Bishop, 37, grew up in the Pittsburgh suburbs and lived in Cleveland for a decade. She has a Bachelor of Arts in gender studies from Hiram College and a master’s in social work from Case Western Reserve University.
“This theater stuff is still pretty new to me, but I now feel a future in it,” Bishop says. “While I still need to work on some of the basics, I think I have a fresh sensibility and a lot to say. More and more I’m writing for a broader audience.”
“Kate has said that she wants to see more butch women on stage, and is not entirely satisfied with the current portrayals of lesbian women,” she says. “I think Kate could be instrumental in pushing lesbian characters into the spotlight. Anybody can watch her plays and relate to her characters. The Strand’s mission is to promote women’s voices, and Kate’s work fits into the mission perfectly.”