The May Queen, a comedy by Molly Smith Metzler, was originally commissioned in 2014 by the Chautauqua Theatre Company of Chautauqua, NY, under the direction of first-year PlayMakers Repertory Company artistic director Vivienne Benesch, who was then serving as artistic director of Chautauqua Theatre Company.
The dramedy (it provokes as many tears as laughs) follows a small group of office drones and their dictatorial Human Resources rep as they uncover the true identity — and haunted past — of the new office temp.
The cast delivers strong performances overall — mostly finding a solid balance between the comedy and the tragedy of their co-workers’ plight. In her PlayMakers debut, Andrea Syglowski is a severe and enigmatic Jen Nash, opening up to the other characters — and the audience — with a deliberate unwillingness. Metzler has written Jen in a such a way, though, that even a skilled actress such as Syglowski cannot make her likeable.
Another PlayMakers newbie is Rishan Dhamija as David Lund, office drone and struggling student. Dhamija keeps distance between David and the standard “Indian IT Guy” trope, playing him with tenderness and wit.
Finally, Nate Miller delivers his inaugural PlayMakers turn as Mike Petracca, high school jock turned slob. It is difficult to tell whether Miller or the character is unbalanced, but the effect is one of unease and suspicion. Mike is the most oddly developed of Metzler’s characters.
Director Vivienne Benesch finds some rhythms in Metzler’s script and keeps the show at a brisk pace. Jan Chambers’ scenic design is detailed and full of life, matching Tracy Christensen’s equally matched costumes. Scott Bolman takes on the challenge of bringing a drab o ffice to life and does so, with a balance between the deadly office fluorescents and subtle theatrical mood shifts.
Sound designer Anna Warda Alex has mixed the show well, with myriad location-specific effects. Oddly enough, even though most of the characters are native to upstate New York, there isn’t a defining accent among them.
The problem with the show is not the fault of the production team or the cast. This is simply not a very good play. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. The plot feels clunky, many “changes of heart” are not justified, and it feels unpolished. It’s difficult to separate the unnecessary character business (of which there is much) from what is actually important to the play.
Molly Smith Metzler’s play does not treat women well. Three major clichés are present from the start: the yogi airhead, the power-hungry assistant, and the bookish shrew. These last two eventually show secondary sides of their characters, but those are also boring tropes.
The May Queen’s greatest sin is the message it sends about abuse. We are presented with a woman who is traumatized by a few life events, most notably the years-long abuse of a mentally unstable male stalker. The play seems to suggest that this behavior is perfectly acceptable, as long as (A) the victim is also flawed; (B) the stalker is charming and can “justify” his behavior; and (C) he has a disability and doesn’t understand what he’s doing. It is this last suggestion that is so offensive.
The suggestion that his behavior is not only acceptable but somehow romantic is extremely disturbing and makes the piece almost unpalatable. Metzler ends the play with the stalker badgering his victim into doing something she is obviously uncomfortable with, as he longingly observes his conquest. The piece intends to be about redemption and reconciliation, but it misses the mark entirely.
The production comes in at a PG-13 for language and intense emotional subject matter.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article117590038.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 22nd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/11/in-the-may-queen-playwright-molly-smith-metzler-speaks-with-a-singularly-funny-very-human-voice/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE MAY QUEEN at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29-Dec. 2, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6-10, and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$55 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCNEps28oR0, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep/videos/vb.6063055746/10154727390260747/?type=2&theater, and https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep/videos/vb.6063055746/10154727429915747/?type=2&theater.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4th, performances.
NOTE 5: December 6 to 11 will be Business Week at PlayMakers Rep, with a special group rate for local businesses.
Molly Smith Metzler (New York, NY playwright): https://playmakersrep.org/molly-smith-metzler-interview/ (PlayMakers Rep interview), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4030641/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/mollysmithmetzler (Facebook page).
Vivienne Benesch (Chapel Hill, NC director): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/vivienne-benesch/ (PlayMakers Rep bio) and https://www.facebook.com/vivienne.benesch (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.