Not Just Girl Talk: Fresh from the Laramie Project, out Actor Kelli Simpkins Tackles Gender Stereotypes in I Think I like Girls. (Theater)

Article excerpt

At 6 foot 1 with close-cropped hair, Kelli Simpkins has what she calls "a masculine presence." That's what got her cast in the original stage production of The Laramie Project as, among other roles, teenager Aaron Kreifels, the bicyclist who found Matthew Shepard tied to a fence. In a similar vein is Simpkins's next theater project, the documentary-based play I Think I Like Girls, created by Laramie's head writer, Leigh Fondakowski, and running September 3-21 at the La Jolla Playhouse near San Diego. Simpkins plays three characters, one of whom is Daphne Scholinski, the transgendered painter and author of the memoir The Last Time I Wore a Dress, which recounts how she was involuntarily institutionalized as a teenager for "gender identity disorder."

Actually, Girls predates Laramie, and Simpkins was among the cast in its original 1999 staging at Here Theater in New York City (a coproduction with Tectonic and New Georges theaters). It was there that she got her start in the theater form that transformed not only her notions of theater but also her sense of self: After movie roles in Chasing Amy and A League of Their Own, Simpkins came out as a lesbian in The Advocate last year in connection with HBO's film version of The Laramie Project.

Like Laramie, Girls developed out of interviews with a diverse group of real people--in this case, women telling coming-out stories. Their interviews were videotaped, logged, and transcribed by Fondakowski. Determined to bring new voices onto the stage and convinced that theater was "a little bit behind other media in terms of authentic lesbian representation," she wanted to let lesbians speak for themselves. The script, pulled verbatim from transcripts, evolved through interactive exercises between the actors and the director. …