Chautauqua Puts On Original Play, ‘The May Queen’

CHAUTAUQUA – The Bratton Theater was home to a world premiere Saturday evening as the Chautauqua Theater Company presented the first official performance of a play which they and the Chautauqua Writers Center had commissioned: “The May Queen,” by Molly Smith Metzler.

The result is a play which seems certain to have a life ahead of it – one which captures truth and successfully makes the audience care about that truth.

The play is set in the modern day, in an insurance office in Kingston, New York – a small town similar in size to Jamestown. The office has four employees as the curtain opens. Three of them have been with the firm for a number of years. They like each other, work well together, and they have figured out that some of them have strengths that others don’t so they easily pass parts of the job around to the people who do them best, rather than sticking it on the youngest or insisting that everyone does his own work, even if someone else is better at it.

The fourth employee is a young woman named Nicole. She has been hired in by the firm to be in charge of this office, despite the fact that some of the employees have worked for the firm longer than she has been alive. Immediately she has fired the most experienced member of the office, and she constantly threatens and criticizes the other employees, complaining that they aren’t respectful of her position.

Into the office comes Jennifer Nash, who has been hired for a month as a temporary employee. Soon Nicole is inviting her to lunch and promising her that if she can produce more vacancies in the staff that Jennifer can move into the vacated position.

In short, it captures exactly the dynamic of any number of offices I have been in.

Emma Duncan played Jennifer with dignity and reserve. She wants to keep the job, but she hasn’t come there to assault the staff. Her situation becomes worse when it turns out that the employee the staff considers their rightful leader went to high school with her. He was a star athlete and the story has spread around the small town that she did sexual favors for the BMOC, though she adamantly denies that.

Metzler’s script has beautifully captured a number of personal types. The banter is witty and always sounds conversational, rather than contrived. There are many laughs, and you could hear phrases from the audience, such as “Doesn’t that guy remind you of Nick?” The one weakness, in my perspective, is the way as the play approaches its end, the audience gets all its wishes fulfilled and everything comes up roses for everyone who doesn’t deserve worse. There is a point of departure in the action which is too complete and too suddenly introduced.

Joe Tippett captured perfectly the well-meaning but not brilliant former jock hero, who continues to rule his former admirers without even realizing that he’s doing it.

Mary Bacon and Greg Fallick were believable and strong as the employees, colorful personalities, set on preserving the status quo against anyone who dares to suggest a change.

Kate Eastman had the thankless role as the insecure, ambitious newcomer boss prepared to give the world to anyone who would be on her side, and the cut the heart out of anyone who dared to suggest that she wasn’t God’s gift to the office.

Director Vivienne Benesch paced the action very well. She moved people and props with energy and intention, and it was very easy to get involved with these characters.

Scenic designer Lauren Helpern, costume designer Tracy Christensen, and lighting designer Scott Bolman created an office which was full of brightness and personality yet was never cliche.

“The May Queen” repeats at varying times in the afternoon and evening, through July 27. If you need a laugh, it will surely serve you as good medicine, indeed.