2017-02-02 / Community

'The May Queen,' a stinger of a play

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By Gregory Morell
Reviewer

Obsessive love, unkind twists of fate, and the horrors of High School that come back to bite you, are all duly explored in a clash of confession, comedy, and conflict in "The May Queen" now running at Portland's Good Theater through Feb. 26.

The author, Molly Smith Metzler, grew up in the Hudson River town of Kingston, New York, 60 miles south of Albany. It is a middle-class city of 20,000 with one high school, Kingston High School. What transpired in and around the Kingston May Day Festival of 1997, propels the dramatic rancor, regret and retribution distilled in Metzler’s poignant saga of the May Queen.

All the action takes place in an insurance office where four of the Kingston High School alums are now employed. It is a 90-minute stinger of a play.

The set design by Craig Robinson well defines the claustrophobic office "pod" that is crammed with props. Computers, phones, and the tacky minutia of bored office workers desperately trying to stamp some type of uniqueness to their anonymous cubicle rules. Yankee sports ephemera, piles of fast food debris, and a gaudy, over-the-top tribute to island adventure cram the stage.

The desk in the Caribbean cube is completely covered with a grass skirt. Included are palm trees, Hawaiian twinkle lights and a plastic statue of a hula dancer that lights up and shakes her hips at the start of every scene. The hula is accompanied by the familiar strains of the Hawaiian mega hit from the 60s, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as it blares from the stage speakers. It's a delightfully funny way to open each scene of the play and audiences get a good chuckle out of the clever device all four times the hula doll does her cheeky dance to the “Whee um um aways.”

The play was written in 2014 and this production is only the fifth one to take stage. Good Theater has built a very solid reputation of tackling new and challenging work. The acting talent that director and Good Theater founder, Brian P. Allen, has been able to showcase in the theater's 15-year history has been consistently rewarding. This play is no exception. Amazingly, Allen has directed 80-plus plays during his 15-year tenure at the helm of the theater. He has deservedly developed an appreciative and devoted audience following.

For some of us, our high school years are fondly remembered, but to others, the thought of attending a high school reunion is like descending into the lowest circle of hell.

Jen Nash was crowned May queen in her sophomore year. After the days of celebration, what came next was both surprising and shocking. As the play unfolds we learn the dirty truths, the lies, the misunderstandings and the nasty web of gossip that surrounded the event.

Abbie Killeen plays the title role of the May queen with distinction. She remains painfully reserved throughout most of the action, but when it comes time to truly bare her soul, her monologue is riveting.

Rob Cameron plays the part of Mike Petracca. He was the big man on campus in high school, a football hero, and seems blessed with good luck, except for the fact that he is a sloppy alcoholic and a fool for love. Making sense of this incongruity is a steep challenge.

Laura Houck as Gail and Thomas Ian Campbell as Dave are Mike’s office mates, they offer up a constant stream of comedic shenanigans. Dave is a lovable nerd with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all matter of high school minutia. He is a quirky, compelling, goofball. Gail, the Caribbean beach dreamer, is a vivacious font of gossip which she delivers with devilish gusto. Their office foil is the newly installed young office manager, Nicole, played by Hannah Elaine Perry. Nicole is a cartoon caricature of a tyrannical ruler who is universally despised by all.

This is not a happy tale, but it is laced with humour and fast paced acerbic diatribes that are darkly witty, richly entertaining and an absorbing challenge for the actors. Overall, this is an intriguing drama with a few loose ends.

The technical crew for this show included Justin Cote as costume designer, Iain Odlin as lighting director, Steve Underwood on sound design and Michael Lynch as production stage manager.  

The intimacy of their 100-seat playhouse, their dedication to challenging material and their consistent and competent theater craft, make Good Theater a prized adventure of merit.

Good Theater offers a very affordable, three-show subscription option that ranges from $45 to $75 depending on the day of performance. Performances of “The May Queen” continue through Feb. 26 with shows on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Single tickets range from $22 to $40.

— Gregory Morell writes play reviews for the Journal Tribune.

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