The Daughters honors Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin

The Cast of “The Daughters” toast the new agenda in Act I.

THE DAUGHTERS: Comedy/Drama by Patricia Cotter. Directed by Jessica Holt. SF Playhouse presents @ The Creativity Theater at The Children’s Creativity Museum – 221 4th Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or

October 9 through November 2, 2019.

The Daughters earned a standing ovation on opening night. Rating: ★★★☆☆1/2

Reams have been written and plays performed about male gay history in general and San Francisco scene in particular with a relative dearth about the female gay history. Patricia Cotter’s play The Daughters that is receiving its world premiere under the auspice of San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series lessens that gap. Although it is not a biography of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin who founded “The Daughters of Bilitis” in 1955 it is in their honor.

The intrepid duo in the play are Mal (Martha Brigham) and Peggy (Erin Anderson) who are hosting a party at their apartment for all who are interested with the intent of approving a statement of purpose for a lesbian group to be called “The Daughter of Bilitis.” That group became the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States.

The 50s are the era of McCarthyism with jobs and reputations in jeopardy in all phases of life and work. Each character in the play is at risk of being “outed” leading to loss of social status, jobs and prosecution under law. But the intrepid gather “in defiance of convention and law” continuing to “drink, debate, politicize, flirt, make out, fall in love, dance and drink some more.” They are representative slice of San Francisco life using various methods to hide their sexual orientation” even being wary of being observed by the neighbors. Mal and Peggy have a second bed to hide that the sleep together.

Griff (Molly Shaiken) and Shorty (Em Lee Reaves) come dressed in men’s clothing and become enamored of the young 21 year old Evelyn who is completely inexperienced in lesbian sexuality. Last to arrive, and completely unexpected but welcomed is Vivian who is black, married and newly arrived from New York City to hopefully be able to partake of Lesbian love with more freedom in the semi-freedom offered in San Francisco. Through conversation and action Cotter has outlined the foibles of each character while not losing tract of the purpose of the meeting. Each leaves the party with no specific commitment but reawakened to their predicament.

Having whetted the audience’s appetite for more of her fully rounded characters, Cotter switches gears and moves 60 years ahead for Act 2. She creates entirely new diverse characters (played by the same six actors) to inhabit The Lexington Club a lesbian that is closing on this evening of April 30,2015. Even though you will recognize the first act cast,  each actor gives a unique flair to their new roles.

The purpose of the time shift is to demonstrate “you’ve come a long way baby” with the freedoms partially wrung by the Daughters of Bilitis. A transgender character (Molly Shaiken) is introduced and initially is not fully accepted. On the other hand Jeunee Simon as Leslie expresses the wild attitude of the freedom Vivian was seeking in act one. Cotter does not hold back writing two scenes of fleeting sex engaged in the toilet room. A further expression of the hard won freedom is suggested in dancing on the bar and unabashed indiscriminately making out without fear of the law or social rejection. Cotter injects the final thought that 60 years after that first meeting there is really no reason to have an exclusive meeting place for lesbians since gay people of all gender(s) are free to meet almost anywhere.

Each actor gives verisimilitude to their individual roles and each has a chance to share center stage for brief periods of time. Due to illness Katie Rubin was replaced by Martha Bingham as Mal/Gina and did a fantastic acting job while still being on book.

Jessica Holt is a master at directing plays and she keeps the interaction cogent yet allows individual vignettes  to shine when necessary. Running time is two hours and 15 minutes plus an intermission.

CAST: Erin Anderson as Peggy/Natalie; Olivia Levine as Evelyn/Ani; Em Lee Reaves as Shorty/Spike; Martha Bingham as Mal/Gina; Molly Shaiken as Griff/Jefferson; Jeunée Simon as Vivian/Leslie.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Jessica Holt; Scenic Designer, Randy Wong-Westbrooke; Costume Designer, Chanterelle Grover; Sound Designer, Lana Palmer; Lighting Designer, Chris Lundahl; Properties Designer, Stephanie Dittbern; Casting Director, Dori Jacob; Stage Manager, Michele Teevan.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

Caption: Molly Shaiken, Katie Rubin, Jeunée Simon, Erin Anderson, Em Lee Reaves, Olivia Levin

In 1955, the first meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis gets off to an uneven start as members Evelyn (Olivia Levine), Mal (Katie Rubin), Griff (Molly Shaiken), Shorty (Em Lee Reaves), and Peggy (Erin Anderson) meet for the first time.

Members of the Daughters of Bilitis toast their first meeting. L-R: Evelyn (Olivia Levine), Griff (Molly Shaiken), Vivian (Jeunée Simon), Shorty (Em Lee Reaves), Mal (Katie Rubin), and Peggy (Erin Anderson). Photo: Jessica Palopoli.