Saturday, September 24, 2011

REVIEW: Queen of the May

Evan Watkins' and Andrew Farmer's

It's already closed -- twice now -- but because it was an excellent piece of work, I feel it's necessary to write my thoughts upon it, because it was a hysterical and well crafted piece of comedy.

Much like Felix + the Diligence (even though this play came first), The Queen of the May and Her Harvest Kings trades on a nostalgia for a time we don't really know. In this case, it's 1929, and the daughter of the Cole Family (famous for Cole Family Slaw...) is the Queen of the May (Valerie Graham), and she is choosing her Harvest King from between two identical twins (Andrew Farmer and Evan Watkins).

It's a simpler time, where two men got dressed up nice and put on a delightful show to woo a gentle lady. There's just one problem: it turns out that the 1920s were full of loathsome, terrible racism, sexism, and generally backwards thinking. As playwrights, Evan and Andrew don't write in a plot about race, or try to demonstrate how terrible the plight of Catholics was, they just make fun.

A lot of fun. A lot of terrible, cruel, heartless fun. It's all jokes and smarmy gags, but every other joke is a cruel knife. Of course the 1920s seemed fun -- nobody at the time had to pay attention to the implications of horrifying jokes. So when Andrew rattles of a witticism about the racial profile of Jazz musicians -- "It's not just the notes that are black" -- the jokes may be landing in the audience but the vicious cruelty behind every smile is on display.

Eventually, the jokes fall away and we realize that this terrible cruelty -- which "society" has on display -- is perfectly encapsulated by the foul, greedy hearts of the two Harvest Kings. They've done foul, terrible deeds to fit into this perfect picture they want to put on display, and it tears everything apart.

Of course, from the description apart, you're probably imagining some hybrid of a family-falling-apart story (a la August Osage County) and a Broadway musical. Nothing can be further from the truth. The entire play is just a series of gags and bits, sketches as these boys try -- through force -- to earn your love.

It's fun. It's hysterical. The entire play is tightly crafted with the kind of slapstick enthusiasm that most comedy performers could dream of. The first time I saw this play, I fell into a paroxysm of laughter that caused me actual physical pain and lasted fifteen minutes. And it was all because I had been attacked as being an incompetent Hebrew.

It's not surprising to me that, in talking with audience members after the show, I heard repeatedly that this play is "a really dumb play in a good way," and "a really smart play." The stupidity -- the bloody-minded, offensive, hilarity and the dumb punnery -- is so well crafted that it seems to turn Dumb Comedy into a Ph.D. It moves fast and furious, so all you're aware of is being very much entertained, but on looking back -- my god it's a fun ride.

Before I leave you, you should check out the audience response. I'm currently editing another round of audience response.

(Dear FCC: they gave me a ticket, twice.)

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