Queen – Review by Tom Holeman

A bittersweet evening of theatre which really has nothing to do with their current offering, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre is shutting down to explore outreach community efforts. We will miss the venerable theatre with two recently renovated stages, but wish the management luck with this new venture. Meanwhile, “Queen”, a perceptive and provocative new play by Amadhuri Shekar, makes some kind of history as the theatre’s final offering. It’s a worthy note to end on.

Produced in partnership with the National Asian American Theatre Company and transferring to off-Broadway later in June, “Queen” is the story of two brilliant and ambitious women, Ariel, a researcher (Stephanie Janssen) and Sanam, a statistician (Avanthika Srinivasan) who are on the brink of being published for their major scientific breakthrough about bees and the role Monsanto chemicals played in the dwindling population of the insects. When Sanam finds a flaw in her calculations, however, the women are asked to make small changes rationalizing that their basic concepts are solid and no one will know.

“Queen” is reminiscent of “The Lifespan of a Fact”, Jeremy Kareken’s play which looked at questions of ethics and hubris in the field of journalism. The women have worked hard for years and are so close to being recognized they are tempted to finally take the easy road. This includes their mentor, Dr. Philip Hayes (Ben Livingston), who is in line to receive accolades for his mentorship of the women. But at what cost is your reputation? Your values? “Queen” could not be timelier. The initial, talky 20 minutes of the play eventually gives way to powerful questions, lively dispute and thought-provoking drama.

A solid group of actors, which includes Keshav Moodliar as a young man who takes a shine to Sanam, mesh beautifully and each have their moments to shine under Aneesha Kudtarkar’s direction. But the women are the main course here and Janssen and Srinivasan are never better than when engaged in passionate, heartfelt debate. Kudtarkar’s direction, though, has unfortunately been limited by an ill-advised scenic design. Junghyun Georgia Lee’s simple setting comprised of a pentagonal arrangement of five tables presents some obstacles resulting in rather pedestrian blocking. And the tables, when rearranged, do not easily adapt to suggest the many other settings required. Luckily Yuki Nakase Link’s precise lighting and Uptown Works’ sound design and original music do most of the heavy technical lifting for the play. I saw no reason, also, for including audience members on stage forcing a production in the round and resulting more often than not in catching the backs of actors.

But the play is still the thing in New Haven and you will have plenty to discuss in “Queen” long after those final bows. It’s a fond farewell to the historic Long Wharf stage. “Queen” continues at Long Wharf Theatre through June 5. For further information, call the box office at: 203.693.9486 or visit: www.longwharf.org

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.