LOS ANGELES — It was a hot Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. Too hot. I dragged myself to a friend’s gray Volvo station wagon and prayed as I turned the key. The car started. As the engine purred, I cringed at the heat glowing off of the leather seat. I gunned it to Highway 5, swerving between cars as I went, and slid off into a parking spot a block away fromAutomata.
A nonprofit focused on puppet theater, experimental film, and other “neglected art forms,” Automata is housed in a tiny storefront on Chinatown’s Chung King Road. Last week, the organization mounted Concrete Folk Variations, a noir puppet play set in McCarthy-era Los Angeles that was written, directed, and designed by artist Susan Simpson. It was no typical noir, however; in addition to the unusual form, Simpson’s central character is a butch lesbian detective and former cop, Loretta Salt. The twisted plot involves a murder, secret romances, and the stoic detective as much as it involves the LA lesbian community more than two decades before Stonewall happened on the other coast. For gays and lesbians, this was an era of hiding one’s sexual identity and regular police harassment — a time that few today are old enough to remember and that many are too young to even wonder about. Perhaps that’s why Simpson felt the need to tell her story now.
That story is fascinating and grips viewers immediately. It begins with Salt, who’s sick of her job as a beat cop; she’s been on the force for years, yet due to overt sexism, she isn’t being promoted and doesn’t stand a chance to be. Though masculine in her appearance, she’s still a woman and it’s 1947. Simpson’s astute wardrobe choices for the stone butch character include a tiny blazer and slacks — the kind I associate with my grandfather’s style. Salt’s outfit matches her rough, disgruntled, gravely voice and attitude.
Read the full story on Hyperallergic: http://hyperallergic.com/125755/lesbian-noir-with-hard-boiled-wooden-puppets/