If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Marine Stories in Hartford Stage World Premiere
The treatment of women in the American military is revealed in an unflattering light in “Queens for a Year”, the timely but overstuffed new play by T.D. Mitchell currently having its world premiere at Hartford Stage. The season-opener could certainly benefit from a few more drafts at this stage of the game.
Set mostly in 2007 with various flashbacks to earlier incidences, “Queens for a Year” tackles the sensitive topic of military rape though Ms. Mitchell’s first act teases that idea for nearly an hour before letting us in on the mystery. It begins with the arrival of 2nd Lt. Molly Solinas (a fierce Vanessa R. Butler in full “G.I. Jane” mode) who has come to her grandmother’s home in Southern Virginia with PFC Amanda Lewis (Sarah Nicole Deaver) under her wing. At the house we meet four generations of military women in the family which includes Molly’s aunt (Heidi Armbruster) and Great Grandmother (Alice Cannon). Molly’s “black sheep” mother (the welcome Mary Bacon), who chose to join the Peace Corps instead of the military, makes an appearance late in the play after an initial courtroom scene that begins the drama in which she is being questioned about events yet to unfold.
“Queens for a Year” tackles PTSD, suicide, lesbianism and the second class treatment of women in the military while the crime at the play’s center often gets muddled. It would help if more scenes were enacted instead of just relayed by witnesses who may or may not be reliable. I was reminded throughout of Kirby Dick’s brilliant 2012 documentary, “The Invisible War”, which investigated the epidemic of rape within the US military. The film revealed that a female soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. “Queens” has similar concerns, but is bogged down by far too many points of view and character back stories.
Sincere without being especially moving, T.D. Mitchell’s play eventually builds to a climax that seems overblown and melodramatic, more befitting a television film (the playwright was a writer and story editor for the Lifetime series, “Army Wives”). There are nice individual scenes here and there including one where Lewis explains her conflicted emotions to an Iraqi woman in full burqa. Even this sequence, however, demonstrates the drama’s propensity to “tell” and not “show”. I also found the continued use of military cadences between scenes (including a particularly filthy one set to the tune of “Candy Man”) rather tedious. Surely there were other ways to cover set and costume changes. Director Lucie Tiberghien has done the best she can with a game and willing cast at her disposal.
It is rare to find a new play written and directed by women, dealing seriously with themes important to women with a cast that includes a predominance of women. For that reason alone, one wants to cheer on this handsome production (scenery by Daniel Conway, costumes by Beth Goldenberg, lighting by Robert Perry). But, in the end, the play is the thing and, right now, this current rendering of “Queens for a Year” is in serious need of repair.
“Queens for a Year” continues at Hartford Stage through October 2. For further information and ticket information call the theatre box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.