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Review: QUEEN at Long Wharf Theatre

This provocative production runs through June 5th

Review: QUEEN at Long Wharf Theatre

QUEEN, by Madhuri Shekar and playing at Long Wharf Theatre through June 5th, is a timely investigation of ideas that centers on women in STEM (who are underrepresented onstage as in life). Unfortunately, cryptic writing and a misguided set design lessen the impact that the production might have achieved. Still, QUEEN's premise and plot are intriguing.

Two Ph.D. candidates, Ariel, a biologist, and Sanam, a statistician, have been working for six years on a paper establishing that honeybee's Colony Collapse Disorder (a real, and potentially catastrophic, phenomenon) is due to the pesticides used by the giant conglomerate Monsanto. Their paper is finished; is about to be published in the field's most distinguished magazine, Nature; and their careers are set to soar, when Sanam discovers, in the most recent data, evidence that their study is flawed. Their mentor, Dr. Philip Hayes, urges them to "fudge the numbers" and forge ahead. The women are far less certain about this course of action, which Hayes claims is not uncommon in the fiercely competitive world of academia.

In addition to this conflict, each woman faces personal challenges. Ariel, the single mother to a toddler, has little in the way of funds. Sanam is the daughter of wealthy and traditional Indian parents who repeatedly set her up with blind dates deemed appropriate husband material. We meet one of these: Arvind Patel, a Wall Street derivatives trader. For Sanam, these dates are unsubtle messages, from her family and the men, that she should become a housewife rather than a scientist, and science is her life.

Director Aneesha Kudtarkar has cast QUEEN beautifully. As Ariel, Stephanie Janssen is both high-strung and immensely likeable; she makes us sympathize with Ariel's passion for saving the bees as well as her straightened circumstances. Avanthika Srinivasan's Sanam is as serious as she is zealous about her work, but her flashes of humor are endearing.

Ben Livingston, as Dr. Philip Hayes, is completely believable as a kindly mentor--until the women challenge him, after which his misogynistic ruthlessness is frightening. And Keshave Moodliar's Arvind achieves what might seem the impossible: he is predatory and paternalistic, while at the same time drawing us in with an irresistible charm.

The play is composed of mostly short scenes, and though some are powerful, several of these need to be expanded. Shekar renders the science accessible, but the plot's final moments, in particular, are unclear, making what has come before less than satisfying.

Still, the largest obstacle for the audience is the set, arrived at by director Kudtarkar and designer Junghyun Georgia Lee. One shiny black hexagonal table sits in a three-quarter round; we are asked to believe that this table is the setting for places as different as a conference room, a fancy restaurant, Ariel's home, and Sanam's home. Each time the place switches, masked stagehands enter and move the parts of the hexagon ever so slightly, disturbing our suspension of disbelief. Worse, the three-quarter staging means that we often see an actor's back for long stretches or one actor blocks another. Certainly, the cells in a beehive are hexagonal, but projections would have served the production much more effectively.

QUEEN is the first collaboration between a regional theatre and the National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO), up to now working only in New York. Long Wharf Theatre is rightly proud to be NAATCO's initial collaborator before QUEEN makes its off-Broadway debut. Despite the flaws in this production and in the script, QUEEN gives us much to ponder and begins to fill spaces that urgently need filling: plays that deal with climate change, with women in science, and with the choices that women, unique from men, must make in academia and in the rest of the working world.

QUEEN continues at Long Wharf Theatre through June 5. For further information, call the box office at: 203.693.9486 or visit: https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2176742®id=60&articlelink=https://longwharf.org/shows-events/queen/?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1

Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel



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