BWW Review: QUEEN at Geva Theatre Center Fielding Studio
On the surface Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Studio series production of QUEEN examines the potential devastation caused by the dwindling honeybee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder. This first look seems to indicate that Madhuri Shekar's play will be another social drama about the capitalistic monolith and its insidious corruption in greedy pursuit of wealth. Monsanto stands as the corporate boogeyman that needs to be taken down to save the bees and thereby rescue the planet. The plot could be linear and predictable, clearly establishing villain and hero. Thankfully, Shekar's play delivers a much more complex and thoughtful dramatic work.
The play hinges on two young PhD candidates, Sanam Shah (Nikhaar Kishnani) and Ariel Spiegel (Marina Shay), brought together by singular scientific purpose but who differ in myriad ways. Sanam, a math whiz, hails from a wealthy Indian family. She is nerdy, awkward, introverted and obsessed with the clinical aspect of her work. Ariel is from a working class family of beekeepers, an unwed mother, driven by the ecological politics involved. She is passionate about the plight of bees and skewed by that bias. But through the seven years of shoulder-to-shoulder research, they have forged a deep friendship that bridges their differences. Like the bees in a hive, their singleness of purpose focuses their individual function and brings unity to the team. However, two disruptive agents are introduced into this functioning dynamic. Dr. Philip Hayes (Ezra Barnes) heads up the research team. He exudes a paternalistic charm but possesses an ego ravenous to be fed. He pursues science for the accolades associated with discovery and is obviously content to take credit for the brilliance of his underlings. He represents a corruption in academia that relies on sycophantic devotion within the hierarchy of research, and Ariel is particularly smitten by his mentorship. Into this mix enters Arvind Patel (Nik Sadhnani), a annoyingly hip and successful stock trader of Indian descent, sent to summarily woo the reclusive Sanam into an arranged marriage. He represents the slick corporate world willing to gamble at great risk for profit and personal gain. Sanam is both repulsed by his vulgarity and allured by his confidence. Fueling these personal intrigues is Sanam's dogged pursuit of a perfect statistical model for the study of honeybees. Shekar introduces us to the mathematical world of complexity and chaos theory, a field so theoretical and fragile, that one new set of data skews an entire seven-year study. This crisis becomes ethical. Does one stay true to objective fact, to ideology or to personal desire?
Geva Theatre has once again assembled a highly professional and talented production team and cast. Reid Thompson's set design is simple yet evocative. It utilizes the small space brilliantly and the set changes actually heighten the intensity of the action. Pirronne Yousefzadeh's direction flows seamlessly, sharpening the character relationships and struggles. Most importantly, the actors deliver performances capturing the urgency and zeal of the critical problem. They take a highly esoteric dilemma and humanize it with energy and passion. Nikhaar Kishnani's quietly isolated and conflicted Sanam is particularly moving and effective. Nik Sadhnani's Arvid Patel drips with sleazy charm but grows to be both caring and likeable.
QUEEN raises questions about the dangers of science and our ability to definitively solve highly complex and dynamically changing problems. It warns against bias and impulse. Most of all, it shows that human problems ultimately do not reside in some abstract universal concept but are wrestled with by individuals struggling to make ethical choices in a complex and corrupt world. Ultimately QUEEN doesn't offer solutions. It engages and entertains, leaving us to reflect on our relationships with society, science and nature.
Performances for QUEEN run until November 24th. For information and tickets click here.