Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
When it comes to New York drag queens, Charles Busch reigns supreme. Now he's reigning over a medieval kingdom created from beneath his second hat as a playwright, the long ago kingdom of Queen Amarantha, the daughter of a Napoleonic potentate. In order to rule on her own terms, meaning outside the restraints of her sex, Amarantha decides to live as a man. It's all very much à la Shakespeare with a generous dollop of inspiration from the 1933 movie classic in which Greta Garbo donned trousers as Queen Christina and relinquished her throne to her lover (John Gilbert).
To give the story the proper mix of romantic adventure there's Marcus Lovett -- (you remember him in the title roles in King David and The Phantom of the Opera and as Billy Bigelow in Lincoln Center's Carousel) -- as the lover who likes Amarantha in trousers but is less enamored of her in a skirt. To add the political intrigue without which no kingdom worthy of its moat exists, there's Ruth Williamson as a deliciously wicked would be queen named Thalia. The fourth player in the game of gender reversals is co-director Carl Andress as Roderigo who gets what he craves, Amarantha's job. As it turns out, however, he lacks the strength to deal with either his kingdom or his consort who is none other than the wily Thalia.
Sound like a great campy romp? It is.
The trouble is that the fun is limited to the few scenes when Williamson is let loose and things are allowed to move in the expected fashion, as a comedy deriving much of its fun from the cross-dressing and sexual reversals. You see, Busch has opted to play up a more serious theme of the universality of sexual ambivalence and in doing so he has hobbled his fairy tale spoof with the trappings of one of George Bernard Shaw's discussion plays. The reason another show, Triumph of Love, worked is that it establishes its focus and sticks to it. (See link below to our review about that show which opened on the same day as Amarantha). With Queen Amarantha, Bush tries to merge two styles, to the detriment of the entire enterprise.
Looking back at Busch's last play, The Green Heart, (see link to our review), I think that would have fared better if he had written a part for himself . Here, on the other hand, he has written too big and over-ambitious a part for himelf. The way it adds up is that things would work a lot better with much less of this semi-serious Busch and lots more of Williamson. Maybe he should write a show especially for her.
No review of Queen Amarantha would be complete without praise for Eduardo Sicangco's sets and costumes. Given the limited size of the WPA stage, his eerie kingdom is a marvel of invention. Michael Lincoln's lighting imbues it with the texture and flavor of an opera.
Click here for our review of the other cross-dressing show that opened on this same day: Triumph of Love. . . and of Busch's last show The Green Heart.