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Review: ‘queens’ at LCT, an Immigrant Portrait

By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, March 6, 2018

It has nothing to do with royalty.

The women who occupy this illegal basement apartment in the borough of Queens are about as far from royal as you can get. They are struggling immigrants from everywhere people leave: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Belarus, Syria, Honduras,

Over the course of sixteen years, we get a close-up view of their always difficult, often-desperate lives. The core of the drama centers on two of them: Renia, a terrified young woman fresh off the plane from Poland, carrying her few belongings in a plastic bag and barely able to speak; and Inna, a young arrival from Odessa in search of her long-lost-to-America mother. Martyna Majok’s story takes us backwards and forwards in time, and in and out of various locales, but always returns to that badly furnished basement, and Renia’s and Inna’s journeys through their new world.

Ana Reeder and the cast of ‘queens;’ photo: Erin Baiano.

The performances are sensitive and specific, which is important when the cast of seven is playing multiple parts, from multiple lands, over many years. In particular Jessica Love as the in-charge Pelagiya fighting her own better nature, brings sharpness and depth to the role. Sharpness, in fact, is exactly what this play could have used a bit more of. With jumps in time and place, performers in multiple parts and story lines, the action gets confusing—and the end comes, and then comes again, and then again.

Ms. Majok’s breakout play, Ironbound, produced at Rattlestick in 2016, told a similar, if far smaller story, of how an immigrant woman deals with life in a new land. But queens (with a lower-case “q” for no apparent reason) is far more ambitious, if perhaps not quite as successful. The confusing chronology doesn’t seem necessary; in fact, with a story this strong and performances this perceptive, it seems to dilute the level of intensity rather than raise it. Confusion doesn’t breed compassion.

There is something brilliant in there—in that basement with its lowered ceiling and invisible doors and windows (metaphor much?)—and some brilliant performances. I left a little disappointed in the structure and soundness of the play, but absolutely blown away by the stories and the acting. More, please.

______________________

queens presented by Lincoln Center Theater, Claire Tow Theater. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with two brief intermissions; performances through March 25, 2018. Written by Martyna Majok. Directed by Danya Taymor; scenic design by Laura Jellinek; costume design by Kaye Voyce; lighting design by Matt Frey; sound design by Stowe Nelson. Cast: Jessica Love, Nadine Malouf, Ana Reeder, Andrea Syglowski, Zuzanna Szadkowski, Sarah Tolan-Mee and Nicole Villamil.

 

Cover: Nadine Malouf, Jessica Love, Nicole Villamil, and Ana Reeder in ‘queens;’ photo: Erin Baiano.


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