Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Queens for a Year
Also see Zander's review of Little Shop of Horrors
The drama opens with a monologue delivered by Mae Walker, played by Mary Bacon. Dimly lit, she is somewhat detached from the developing plot until the second act. Mae's daughter, Second Lieutenant Molly Solinas (Vanessa R Butler) arrives at her Virginia home, bringing with her PFC Amanda Lewis (Sarah Nicole Deaver). The latter is grappling with her own physical assault in the military. Suffice to say: awful. These twenty-something age women interface with others in the family, all of whom have evidently been Marines. These include Gunny Molly's grandmother Molly Walker (Charlotte Maier), Molly's aunt Lucy Walker (Heidi Armbruster), and Molly's great-grandmother Lucy MacGregor (Alice Cannon). Actress Jamie Rezanour plays other female roles and actor Mat Hostetler is cast as more than one military man.
The action shifts from the farmhouse where the women detail individual and collective circumstances of Iraq to Marine locales. The early portion of the play is not consistently gripping. Mitchell supplies necessary exposition yet the thrust is occasionally difficult to follow. That changes when an intense flashback draws riveting focus upon Amanda and a Staff Sergeant. He berates her, in human fashion, and situates himself, hovering, precisely next to the young, terrified woman who is attempting to answer questions. Director Lucie Tiberghien has provided specifics for these moments which are pivotal. The following vignette reverts back to Virginia as Molly and Amanda sleep in nearby twin beds; this must have been Molly's bedroom when she was a girl. The violence Amanda has suffered is referenced and the brutal effects upon her mind have undeniably been destructive. Vanessa Butler and Sarah Nicole Deaver are impressive talents who demonstrate range and grasp through full physical and cerebral portrayals.
During the second act, Amanda again endures a grilling (tough to watch) from a female Marine officer. The final hour is sometimes revelatory (the vignette, for example, between Molly and her mother) but everything is not always clear. The show includes a jarring sequence near its conclusion. It is necessary for many of the women to make choices, to reflect, within the confines of the home, upon past decisions. Daniel Conway's effective set facilitates movement from that spot to Iraq (sand at the sides of the stage) and also to Camp Lejeune, a Marine base.
The isn't a weak acting link within this cast. The agitating lines Mitchell has written are fully realized. As the eldest of this ensemble, actress Alice Cannon brings needed comic relief. She does recall, with her current performance, actress Estelle Getty during her time as Sophia on television's "The Golden Girls." Heidi Armbruster, as Molly's aunt, isn't given terribly much stage time until the second act. After intermission, she demonstrates versatility. Jamie Rezanour is asked to play women who are threateningly rigid and unkind. She convincingly embodies these hard-hearted souls. It is not a secret that women in the armed services suffer from abuse.
T.D. Mitchell is known for writing and story editing "Army Wives," the TV series. Last March, Hartford Stage workshopped the current Queens for a Year. This is honest theater which is not easy to witness. When it is affecting, the production is cutting and fervent. At this juncture, that is not always the case.
Queens for a Year continues at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut through October 2nd, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.