BWW Review: ACTLab and Pratidhwani's QUEEN Examines the Ethics of Bee Science

BWW Review: ACTLab and Pratidhwani's QUEEN Examines the Ethics of Bee Science
Isis King, Archana Srikanta, and
Stephen Grenley in Queen.
Photo credit: Pankaj Luthra

I've never been a fan of bees, in fact they terrify me. So, I found it a little ironic that the day I'm supposed to go see a play about bees, Madhuri Shekar's "Queen" from ACTLab and Pratidhwani, that one of the little bastards decides to up and sting me for no reason. Sure, they're important for our ecosystem and without them we would end up with severe food shortages, but they don't need to be such jerks about it. And that's the central conceit of Shekar's play (their place in the ecosystem, not them stinging me). And while the play was intriguing, at times the actors didn't all seem to be a part of the same play, at least not at the same time.

In Shekar's play we focus on Sanam and Ariel (Archana Srikanta and Isis King), two grad students on the cusp of an incredible breakthrough. They've discovered a correlation between the systemic disappearance of bees and a certain pesticide and have the numbers to back it up. But just as they're about to present their findings which will get them published and secure their careers, Sanam discovers that the numbers don't exactly add up to what they want them to. Enter the ethical quandary. Do they tell the truth and completely derail six years of their work or do they tweak the numbers and hope no one notices?

The play itself is a fascinating one once it gets going. At the beginning you may need to slog through a bit of exposition and math but once we get to the ethics we get to the meat of how people can become petty and throw their morals out the window when their backs are to the wall. And Director Agastya Kohli does a fine job keeping the pace of the show up but at times the actors don't feel like they're in the same show or at least not really listening to each other. There's a disconnect across the board with each other that makes it difficult for us to connect with them.

Each of the four performers sells their own intentions well. King plays the desperate single mother well as she treads the tightrope of doing the right thing vs. moving forward in her career. Srikanta has some wonderful moments as she holds to her principles and her interactions with her suitor played by Pratik Shah are adorable as he confidently swaggers through each moment. And Stephen Grenley as the head of the department serves perfectly as the do whatever it takes antagonist, although is written as a bit of a stereotype. But each of them feels as if they're waiting for their next cue line rather than having a conversation so the show never truly comes alive as it could.

The best shows come alive not only when the performers are invested in their own characters but also in each other's characters. And so, with my three-letter rating system I give ACTLab and Pratidhwani's production of "Queen" a disconnected MEH+. Maybe the bee that stung me was trying to tell me something or warn me off. Or maybe he was just a bee.

"Queen" from ACTLab and Pratidhwani performs at ACT through August 19th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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