“Queens for a Year”
“Queens for a Year,” the powerful and harrowing new play by T. D. Mitchell is currently receiving an excellent production at Hartford Stage. The show primarily focuses on the treatment of women in the armed forces and, pointedly, almost all the characters onstage are female. The play is told in a nonlinear style, with the action flashing back and forth in time, and this device gives extra strength to the many surprises that this show contains. Superbly directed by Lucie Tiberghien, “Queens for a Year” is an extremely important new play, simply in the fact that it shines a light on what women must endure—and the way some women are treated—when they enter the military. Playwright T. D. Mitchell definitely knows what she is talking about and the show feels entirely authentic and riveting from start to finish.
In the program, there is a reference to where the play’s title, “Queens for a Year,” comes from: it is actually a derogatory term for a female soldier or Marine serving her overseas tour of duty for a year, in the sense that these women are thought to be able to get away with slacking off or being treated unduly like a “queen,” simply because of the lack of available women in a profession and culture dominated by men. This definition actually dovetails perfectly into the story that this play is telling, which involves one female soldier trying to help another female soldier (who has been severely mistreated both by men and the system in the armed forces) and what happens when these women decide to fight back. This description of the plot may sound a bit complicated, but it is dramatized perfectly onstage.
I would hate to give too much of the plot away, for the playwright expertly manages to reveal details of this story slowly and gradually as the play goes along. It can be mentioned, though, that the primary setting is a rural farmhouse in Virginia. As it happens, in this house there are four generations of women who have fought for their country, all of them wonderfully played by a quartet of fine actresses. Indeed, the entire cast is great and they all work on the same high level.
In the central role of Lt. Molly Solinas, Vanessa R. Butler gives a strong and brave performance and leads the cast extremely well, as her character fights for what is right. As Molly’s Aunt Lucy, Heidi Armbruster is also quite a powerhouse and she performs her part commandingly. Matching her is Charlotte Maier, as a pretty feisty grandmother, and there is even a great-grandmother, the marvelous Alice Cannon, who has appeared in the original casts of “Company” and the Off-Broadway musical, “Man with a Load of Mischief.” All these actresses do solid work and they all genuinely feel like a group of women who have fought for their country. (A mention must be made about the U.S. Marine Corps Advisor, Cpl. Brianna Morgan Maldonado, who has been consulted to help keep the performers and the show completely genuine to what really goes on in the military).
In other parts, Sarah Nicole Deaver is believable and almost frightening in portraying the female soldier, Amanda Lewis, whom Molly is fighting for. As Molly’s mother, Mae Walker, Mary Bacon is almost a breath of fresh air and, though her role may be somewhat small, her character is pretty pivotal in the show. Playing various female supporting parts, Jamie Rezanour is amazingly versatile, and, as the one male actor onstage, Mat Hostetler is quite good and a little scary portraying a succession of unsympathetic male roles.
“Queens for a Year” is also blessed with a terrific design team, with Daniel Conway’s huge, two-level set almost dominating the action and Beth Goldenberg’s costumes looking completely authentic. Also, Robert Perry is the brilliant lighting designer who helps focus the action on each scene and playing area throughout the show. Director Lucie Tiberghien has directed T. D. Mitchell’s incisive play skillfully and carefully and she also deserves credit for having elicited such fine performances from the entire cast. “Queens for a Year” is a notable and significant new work and let’s hope that this play has a future beyond Hartford Stage.
“Queens for a Year” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through October 2, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office at 860-527-5151.
Photo: Vanessa R. Butler
Photo by T. Charles Erickson