Queens by Martyna Mojak
At the LCT3 – Claire Tow Theatre at Lincoln Center
BSonArts Rating: C-
Show-Score Rating: 65
Watching LCT3’s production of Martyna Majok’s “Queens,” it’s important to remind yourself of the mission of Lincoln Center Theater’s most recent addition – it is a place for “new playwrights to develop plays for a new audience” according to the theater’s website. The creation of “Queens” has had unusually robust support including a Lincoln Center Theater commission, several awards with financial support, and development at the renowned Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference last year.
So, it is rather puzzling why Ms. Majok, with so much interesting and relevant material, and creative support from so many sources, has not received the kind of guidance that a young playwright needs to move from inspiration to a well-crafted and engaging play. “Queens” is about the challenges, losses, and potential gains that young immigrant women experience when they leave their homeland for the promises of life in the United States. The play centers on a sort-of basement half-way house in Queens where women who immigrated from Poland, the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Honduras are housed as they try to find their way into some form of stability in their new land.
The play jumps forward and backward in time and place, frequently making it difficult for the audience to figure out where we are and what this time and place has to do with what came before. Because the play moves so freely in time, we frequently see characters dealing with events that took place long ago before we see (or are provided information about) that event in the past. In addition, new characters appear causing more confusion about who is interacting with whom and when these exchanges occur in the history of this basement refuge.
However, Ms. Majok does identify many of the common challenges these women face. How do I deal with the loss of family and friends in my homeland? Will I ever be reunited with my mother or my child who I left behind or who left me behind? What do I have to do to survive in this new land? Do I still have the hopes and dreams that drove me here? Will I ever be recognized as a member of this society or will my accent always make me an “other”?
Ms. Majok clearly has empathy with these characters. She feels their pain and frustrations and frequently communicates those feelings to the audience. She paints a convincing picture of people caught between their former identity in their homeland and the discovery that they are now in a different world that demands a new identity. “You become different when you leave your country,” says one of the women, “you are here – no longer there.” Sounds simple, but Ms. Majok has tapped into its complexity.
The cast is quite good, each handling their appropriate accent, while communicating the insecurity and anguish they are experiencing. Ana Reeder, as Renia, the manager of the housing, portrays a character who is warm and considerate one minute and a fowl mouthed bully the next. Sarah Tolan-Mee, as Inna, is a new arrival and her initiation into the culture of basement forms the plays most unifying aspect. Ms. Tolan-Mee brings a pitiful innocence to this role.
Unfortunately, director Danya Taymor and her production team have done little to bring clarity and focus to the play. The full stage at the Claire Tow Theater is revealed and the different settings are arranged using the simplist of furnishing and props. At times, the same furnishings represent the basement and locations in foreign lands. At other times, the representation of the basement changes for no seeming reason. There is a large ceiling that rises and falls with no apparent consistency in what a particular position is supposed to indicate about the location. Previews are a time that a director and playwright can collaborate on clarifying the play’s actions and messages. If that went on during the three weeks before this play’s opening, it was not evident to this observer. Still, the potential for this material was clearly apparent, if only Ms. Majok could get some good advice.