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“Queen of Basel”

TheaterWorks Hartford

TheaterWorks Hartford is currently presenting a strong production of Hilary Bettis’ play, “Queen of Basel,” which is an extremely effective if somewhat overloaded drama.  As directed by Cristina Angeles, with a fine cast of three actors, this play takes place during the time of Miami’s Art Basel, which is a big blowout party, thrown by a real estate mogul at his South Beach hotel.  As the show begins, the real estate mogul’s daughter, Julie, has just gotten gin spilled all over her dress and she is hiding in the storeroom/kitchen of the hotel and is being tended to by a waitperson, Christine, who is working at the event. 

During the course of the production’s ninety minute running time (without an intermission), a number of secrets and troubles are unloaded by both Julie and Christine, as well as Christine’s Uber driver fiancé, John.  And while a little of this goes a long way, “Queen of Basel,” at TheaterWorks Hartford, ultimately works, thanks largely to the skill of the performers and Angeles’ well-paced direction.           

It is initially a bit disconcerting that “Queen of Basel” takes place in a storeroom, with the wild party being thrown just outside the door.  At times, one wishes that some of the festivity would be injected into the play. However, the plot mainly concerns the stormy relations between the three characters.  As Julie, Christine Spang is wonderful and she displays quite an array of emotions, from spoiled heiress to someone who truly wants to help the world.  Julie’s gown (exquisitely designed by costume designer Harry Nadal) is soaked with gin and, despite calls to her fiancé (who is at the event) for assistance, the only person who seems to want to help her is the waitperson Christine, excellently played by Silvia Dionicio. 

As it turns out, Julie is an alcoholic, whose drink of choice is gin, and, since she has been clean and sober, she wants everyone to keep from thinking that she has relapsed.  The third character who is thrown into the mix of this production is Christine’s Uber-driver fiancé, John, splendidly played by Kelvin Grullon, who is more than happy to drive Julie anywhere she wants to go, to avoid any problems or bad publicity.

In “Queen of Basel,” everything is definitely not what it seems, with each of the characters keeping more than a few secrets to themselves.  The portrait of humanity in the world of this play is decidedly predatory, with each person in the show looking out for their own best interests.  The playwright has written great dialogue and she certainly fills the plot of “Queen of Basel” with many assorted conflicts and drama, which can, at times, seem more than the show can bear.  Still, “Queen of Basel” is definitely worth seeing, if only to witness the three lead performances at its center.

Christine Spang, as Julie, is most certainly a rich, somewhat self-centered young woman who thinks that just about anything can be fixed for the right amount of money.  Spang displays this quality perfectly, though her portrayal is multi-faceted and she can turn on a dime to a fragile, scared girl, whose life is anything but perfect.  As John, Christine’s fiancé, the expert Kelvin Grullon spends the bulk of the time of the show with Julie in the storeroom and, without revealing too much, the relations between Julie and John ultimately reach a boiling point. And, though Silvia Dionicio, as the waitperson Christine, has the least amount of stage time, Dionicio almost walks away with the show, so dignified and fantastic is her performance.

In addition to working so well with her cast, the director also works grandly with her design team, including set designer Rodrigo Escalante, whose deliberately claustrophobic set is ideal for the show, and Emma Deane’s lighting design is similarly great and helps to add to the escalating series of events that occur in the play.  And while one could argue that the playwright has overloaded the plot with too many traumas and tension, this is a play that can inspire a great deal of discussion after the show.  TheaterWorks Hartford invites you to join the world of privilege and some conspiracy that is on full display in “Queen of Basel,” and this production is most definitely worth a look.

“Queen of Basel,” at TheaterWorks Hartford in Hartford, CT runs through February 26, 2023. For tickets, please visit http://www.twhartford.org

Photo (L-R): Kelvin Grullon, Silvia Dionicio, and Christine Spang

Photo by Mike Marques

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One thought on ““Queen of Basel,” at TheaterWorks Hartford by Zander Opper

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