The Art of the Deal
Sisters doing it all for The Queen’s Company
by CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
Gay City News
Producing a show under the showcase code means everything must be measured with great economy. Everything, that is, except creativity. The Queen’s Company’s recently closed production of The Lucky Chance, an obscure Restoration comedy by one of the first professional female playwrights, Aphra Behn, was a stunning example of how art cannot be confined by a check book.
Performed by an all-female company under the witty and skillful direction of Rebecca Patterson, perhaps the only unfortunate thing about the production was that the company is limited to a scant twelve performances – everything else was beautifully conceived and exceptionally executed.
The Queen’s Company, whose development bears watching, uses all female and transgender casting to provoke audiences to consider how gender roles are enacted in society – and in the theater. In the case of The Lucky Chance, it is a timeless story about marrying for love versus marrying for money and how love can play havoc with an established social order, which, sad to say, is as much about preserving fortunes as it is about satisfying the soul and propagating the species.
As with most Restoration comedies, the plot deals with all kinds of twists and turns, banishment, heartbreak and whether or not a marriage has been consummated. The comedy can be broad, but the human dynamics can be subtle, with the denoument requiring the reestablishment of the idealized social order, which means love is triumphant. Remember, this was written at a time when the concept of romantic love was new – and very popular. (And why wouldn’t it be? Under the banner of romantic love, a fair young maid could be protected from marrying a querulous old man at least twice her age.)
Such is the case and the happy outcome of The Lucky Chance, in which one of the many plot twists concerns an old man betting away the virutue of his young wife – a wife who it turns out doesn’t particularly want her virtue trifled with. Through all kinds of machinations, chicanery and hilarity, things sort themselves out in the end, and everyone ends up, more or less, happily.
Had the production been a simple mounting of the play, it would have been like many contemporary productions of Restoration theater, a kind of jewel box telling of a familiar enough story providing a pleasant evening’s diversion. But such one-dimensional values are not within the purview of The Queen’s Company.
In addition to casting this play with all women, Ms. Patterson has created an anachronistic production that juxtaposes the strictures of classical construction against contemporary music and behaviors and a vibrant musical score that gave the production a timeless quality. It is all the more intriguing for that because, for one, contemporary lives are more chaotic and the clear implication is that imposed structures – or strictures for that matter – can neither define a gender role, nor where the heart leads one. Complemented by a highly physical production, with some rather harrowing fights and outrageous pratfalls, The Lucky Chance seemed intensely contemporary and extremely entertaining.
What was remarkable about the all-female cast was not that these women have the range and acting ability to play men, but the level of commitment they brought to the roles and their effectiveness in portrayal. These were not women playing men, so much as women who had found the traditionally masculine elements of the characters and brought them out of themselves – so much so, in fact, that at times, the gender distinctions virtually disappeared and in their place were individuals. In the context of a form that is all about roles, such apparent alchemy allows the audience to hear the play with new ears and to examine for themselves how they may (or may not) be trapped in imposed roles – and how limiting such entrapment must be to the full expression of the heart.
The company led by Virginia Baeta and DeeAnn Weir in the two lead male roles and Ami Shukla and Jena Necrason in the two lead female roles, was superb. Valentina McKenzie and Gisele Richardson as the two old men were delightful, charming and quite sympathetic, even when being ridiculous.
The Queen’s Company deserves the following it has established. It is refreshing to see a company willing to take risks and committed to its vision. With that level of passion, even a restrictive budget can’t stand in the way. Indeed, the costumes by Sarah Iams and the set by Jeremy Woodward were terrific – no skimping there.
The company is set to take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing this fall. Make plans now, as you don’t miss any chance to see these amazing women in action.