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In 'The Speed Twins,' three lesbians haunted by the past

Straight or gay? Man or woman? Or “intergender”? What would you choose if you could choose a life all over again?

Decisions, decisions.

If it strains the brain, best just hit the button on the jukebox for Little Eva’s “Locomotion” and hit the dance floor.

Nothing eases the conundrums of life like a chance to twist and shout. Gin helps, too.

The three British women at the center of Maureen Chadwick’s play “The Speed Twins,” now at the Venus Theatre in Laurel, have a lot to unpack as they while away the time together in a bar that appears to be in a place out of time.

Each is a lesbian and each has a history. In fact, two of them were in love a long time ago.

In “No Exit,” featuring three individuals who will perpetually torture each other, Sartre wrote that hell is other people.

Substitute “get at the truth about” each other for “torture” and you have the road map for “The Speed Twins.”

We first meet Ollie and Queenie. Two more opposite personalities could hardly be imagined.

Ollie, who dresses as Oliver Hardy, right down to the toothbrush mustache, is a brash and hard-drinking party animal of a certain age who has no time for emotions like anguish and guilt.

Queenie first appears in a beauty pageant get-up wearing a sash saying Miss United Kingdom. She is a prudish Catholic in deep denial about her sexuality. Later in the play, we will see another side of her.

Finally, we meet buoyant Shirley wearing a mini-dress, leg brace and blond Nancy Sinatra hairdo. She and Queenie, we learn, share a tragic past.

What brought these three together in this place is never quite made explicit, although Queenie early in the play muses, “We must be in some form of purgatory. To give us a chance to repent our remaining sins.”

To which Ollie replies, “I’m finding all the joys I need right here!” She just found a cigar.

Shirley arrives all a twinkle and instantly recognizes the bar as the Gateway, the London gay club featured in the 1969 movie “The Killing of Sister George.” It was one of the first mainstream movies in which lesbians are the main characters. Indeed, stills from the movie cover one side of the stage.

“I remember everything about that film. It was all I had to prove I wasn’t the only one in the world,” Shirley says.

As the women get acquainted (and toss back a few) their backstories of betrayal, hypocrisy and heartbreak emerge and we see Ollie, Queenie and Shirley as adult women who, regardless of sexual orientation, live with badly healed scars both internal and external.

Directed by Venus founder Deborah Randall, “The Speed Twins,” written by Maureen Chadwick, is having its American premiere. In the main roles are Ann Fraistat as Shirley, Nancy Linden as Queenie and Jane Petkofsky as Ollie.

“The Speed Twins” continues at the 30-seat Venus Theatre, 21 C Street in Laurel, until May 27 with shows at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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