Red and black swirl into the derailed passion of a kingless queen that fills the Yale Cabaret this weekend in a charged force of a one-act play.
The world premiere of “Pardon My Queen” by Nastaran Ahmadi DRA ’06 refuses to be limited by era, realism or theatricality. In a breathtakingly successful production, the accelerated tempo of the Cabaret environment marries perfectly with the fluid nature of the work creating an exceptional and satisfying encounter with budding theatrical talent.
The brief work carries more weight than many full-length dramas as it walks the precarious tightrope between performance and realism, ephemerality and permanence, the throne room and the dungeon. The Queen, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart DRA ’07, has retained the throne following her husbands death, and has subsequently proceeded to fire all of her staff except for the Jester (Alex Organ DRA ’06).
The Queen focuses in on the unfortunately attractive Jester like a vulture circling its prey. Primed for a romantic encounter the Queen finds herself up against one rather thorny obstacle. After the tragic death of her husband her subjects allowed her to keep her throne, but they assigned one catch. She would have to keep her marriage bed pure even following the death of her husband. Swearing tearfully, she remained on the throne, but the terror of chastity begins to wear at her skin and the fragile balance of royalty trembles precariously on her all-too-human desire.
Lest this turn into a Harlequin novel, the Jester and the Queen mostly talk of existential quandaries as he strums a conveniently placed electric guitar. The Queen also discusses her anthropological discoveries about her subjects gained through mulling through their trash. A framework of a rather disjointed modern nuclear family begins to emerge with the appearance of the Queen’s two daughters, Sofia Gomez DRA ’06 and Erin Buckley DRA ’06. Side themes begin to emerge that could be more fully explored in a longer version but serve to add to the relentless absence that haunts the play’s world.
Commenting on the state of the family, love, parent child relations and the absurdity of life’s balance between frivolity and truth, Ahmadi created this play within a month during a spurt of writing last November. She said it began as a dialogue between the idea of performance and true vulnerability, and this dance is reflected continually throughout the production.
The emotional center of the play lies in a strange balance between the mature, however disturbed, longing of the Queen and the raw need of her youngest daughter Agatha, played with a fitting fervor by Gomez. With posture befitting a Queen who KNOWS she’s royalty, Stewart embodies her character’s contradictions ably and sympathetically without betraying the Queen’s precious sensibilities.
Tackling an easily stereotyped role, Buckley plays the teenage daughter Betty with the palpable frustration and confusion of adolescence. Organ has perhaps the most difficult role as the only male in a house of estrogen, torn between his duties and desire and his own tormented past.
Director Jessi D. Hill DRA ’07 has mastered the coordination of multiple vignettes with radically different tones and manages to create a veritable illusion of coherency that resembles reality more closely than most naturalism. The bold strokes of the dramatic costumes, designed with panache by Rachel Myers DRA ’07, contrast nicely with the subtlety of some scenes while heightening the drama of others. The women strut in four-inch heels along with dresses of lushly textured fabrics, creating costumes that sound as delicious as they look.
The set, designed by Rumiko Ishii DRA ’07 is functional, creating environment through suggestion and absence, the most notable feature being a series of empty gilded frames. Lighting Designer Gina Scherr DRA ’06 also makes the best use of a “cozy” space highlighting the actors as they wander through the tables in the basement location.
Flashes of truth and delusion weave together with bracing humor making “Pardon My Queen” that theatrical rarity of an avant-garde performance that isn’t afraid to be real.