The Speed Queen
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
August 11, 2005
Marjorie’s daddy died right in front of her. Her momma says that this is the root of all of Marjorie’s problems; and her problems are many, including a penchant for fast cars and a fast man who introduced her to speed.
She and Lamont fell in love fast, moving in together after only a 19-day courtship. A little fast lovin’ and fast drivin’ led eventually to mainlining speed, a lesbian tryst with Natalie, and an amphetamine-riddled killin’ spree in Oklahoma that ultimately killed Lamont, injured Natalie, and landed Marjorie in the slammer.
The Speed Queen brings Marjorie to us on what is expected to be her last night on earth. She sits in her jail cell, awaiting a verdict on her appeal as well as a well-ordered last meal. Performer Anne Stockton’s adaptation of Stewart O’Nan’s novel is spot-on; the book, written in first person address, practically begs to be performed. The character has got moxie, and the story is fascinating: ultimately a twisted twist on a woman who was done wrong and did wrong in return.
Unfortunately, there are a few things about this staging that miss the mark. First, there’s a stack of index cards. See, Marjorie has somehow gotten a deal with Stephen King—he’s purchased the rights to her story and she’s gonna tell it to him from death row. On tape. He has sent a list of questions, brought to the stage in the form of a stack of index cards that Marjorie goes through one by one, answering the questions into a tape recorder and thereby relaying the story to the audience. This works for a bit, but that stack of cards ultimately becomes a game of “the prop countdown”—we know that once the cards are done, so is the play. Were there more for Marjorie to do (and I know it’s just a jail cell, so there’s not much) my focus would not have stuck so much to that seemingly never ending stack of cards.
Much of this might be alleviated if Austin Pendleton’s direction didn't keep Stockton so largely stationary. She moves only from sitting to standing, which speaks to her confinement, but not to her internal struggle. There is a necessary tension absent from the piece. In the end, the piece rests on exposition: Marjorie, the tape recorder, and a conversation with Stephen King.
Anne Stockton, though deep and precise in her characterization, reads as too sophisticated and refined a performer for the lost and trashy Marjorie. She has obviously done her work: her accent and physicalization is everything you’d expect from a woman bent on saving her life down to the last few minutes. But this drug-addicted inmate she paints through her words is more reminiscent of Charlize Theron’s Aileen in Monster. Even a sloppy ponytail, a prison-issued green jumpsuit, and an occasional snort from a hidden stash of smack can’t mask Stockton’s delicate facial features and lush auburn locks.
There is a great story here, though, and a great role for a woman. I hope that the creators of The Speed Queen revisit this presentation, pack it with more streamlined punch, and put it up again.