nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
July 15, 2005
I can’t say honestly that I enjoyed, or even entirely understood, Normand Chaurette’s The Queens. At the same time, I’m not sure if comprehensibility was one of the playwright’s priorities in creating this lyrical exercise in the avant-garde. There were aspects of Juxtaposed Theatre Company’s production, now at the Gene Frankel Theatre, that I found interesting and frustrating in equal measure, but, undoubtedly, director Gretchen M. Michelfeld’s courage to mount such an unusual play is to be commended. And it’s a very nice show to look at.
Chaurette is French Canadian, and the The Queens was initially written in French, later translated into English by Linda Gaboriau. The English version feels overwrought, but what I took away from Juxtaposed’s production was a wild blend of Shakespeare-style verse and Steel Magnolias, James Joyce stream-of-consciousness, a la Finnegan's Wake, and some good, old-fashioned trashy Dynasty. More than a few times during the course of the evening, I was reminded of Krystle and Alexis about to slug it out—which would have (had that actually happened on stage) been a nice change from all that bloody talking and posing going on. But I was sufficiently able to keep focus as long as I stopped trying to think or interpret and just watched, detached and sponge-like, as one would in a dream.
The speculative story revolves around Richard III’s legendary blood-stained accession to the throne during a heavy snowfall under which the London of 1483 virtually disappears. Meanwhile, back at the castle, another deadly power struggle is going on among six women—“Queens” of the royal families of York, Lancaster, and Plantagenet who are under one roof. I dare not try to get more specific about who’s done what to whom—or when—since I would only get more confused than I already am. (By the way, a time line and family tree are provided in the program.) If I understood correctly, the play is supposed to entirely take place on “Elevation Day,” yet the various actions the Queens refer to as if they have just occurred have taken place across decades. I finally concluded that maybe the play was supposed to be the ancient, dying Duchess of York’s final stream-of-consciousness, although that did not always seem to jibe with Michelfeld’s direction.
The six women who make up the cast are all quite beautiful, feminine, and interesting to watch. Anna Fitzwater as Cecily, the Duchess of York (Richard’s mother), however, is jarringly thin and, with the ultra-pale makeup, appears ghostly and macabre. The lovely costumes were designed by Nicole Provoncil; all Queens are barefoot and dressed in long, corseted, nearly diaphanous gowns of white and off-white. The small sparse set is made up of three white backdrops, a couple of stage blocks, and an altar far upstage center.
This is a good cast with good voices and intelligent acting, especially given the genre. One of my favorite performances comes from Katelyn Clark as Anne Warwick, the doomed but not so sweetly innocent bride-to-be of the monstrous Richard. This Lady Anne gleefully aids and abets him in whatever dastardly deed necessary, including murders within her own family, to get herself to the throne faster. All the while she tries to absolve herself by insisting she was/is only a child of twelve. I also very much liked Sarah Lemp as haughty, petulant, fish-out-of-water Margaret of Anjou who loathes her fellow Queens (it’s mutual), and who tries to escape Richard’s tyranny by trying in vain to run off to, of all places, China. Fitzwater’s grande dame turn as the 99-year-old Duchess of York is sometimes a little over-the-top but also appropriate to her pathetic character.
If you are an audience member who likes straightforward theatre with all loose ends neatly tied up at the end, this play will drive you up the wall. If, however, you are an audience member who is willing to embrace 80 minutes without intermission of the truly unusual, The Queens is well worth checking out. You will definitely have something to discuss later.