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A CurtainUp DC Review
Two Queens One Castle
by Rich See
MetroStage provides amazing vocal performances with its newest offering, Jevetta Steele's autobiographical Two Queens One Castle. The musical discusses one woman's journey of strength as she balances fame, work, family, marriage and the implosion of her world when she discovers that her husband is having an affair with another man.
While the play discusses men on the "down low," (men married to women but who have sex with other men) the piece really examines how three people -- Wife, Husband, Lover -- emerge from their own closets of denial to self-create their identities. Since the musical is written from the wife's perspective it of course focuses on her journey. But the background stories of the husband and lover are in the subtext, much like their relationship throughout the couple's marriage.
For the Wife (none of the characters have names) the journey is in moving from viewing herself through the man she loves to loving herself enough to be the focus of her life. For the Husband the journey is in accepting his sexuality and accepting responsibility for his actions, which he unfortunately never seems to do. While for the Lover it is in realizing that his love is worth more than being put on hold by a man who doesn't respect him enough to make him a priority in his life.
This is a realistic and basically fair look at a type of modern day love triangle which gets air play on daytime talk shows, yet precious little coverage in the mainstream press. Humorously, throughout the first act, the wife is repeatedly advised to do just that -- watch daytime talk TV. Unfortunately she refuses to believe the rumors about her husband, rumors that she intuitively knows are true, which leads her to more pain and heartache later on.
Melding across a variety of musical styles from gospel to R&B to jazz, Two Queens One Castle tells its story mainly through the songs. There's very little dialogue, hence its feeling is more like a song cycle than a basic musical. The sparse dialogue does make the story line sometimes hard to follow, such as in the odd beginning of the song "Momma Prayed For Me" which takes us into the turmoil-filled psyche of the husband before dropping us into the depressed consciousness of the wife.
However, there is a great deal of humor in the script, along with touching moments, like the numbers "Flash Flash" and "Lay Me Down."
Ms. Steele, best known for her Academy Award nominated performance on the song "Calling You" from 1988's film Bagdad Café used her own marriage as the backdrop for the piece. Teaming up with Thomas W. Jones II, the two wrote the book and lyrics. While Mr. Jones directed this production, Ms. Steele played the role of Wife in the musical's 2002 premiere. The varied songs were composed by William Hubbard (who is also Music Director for this production) and Ms. Steele's brother J.D. Steele.
Daniel Conway's set utilizes the color blue -- mentioned quite often in the songs -- to create a bedroom filled with candles, see-through screens and mirrors, along with three large closet doors. The stage morphs into a variety of locales with movable benches and stools. Jim McFarland's costumes range from showbiz glitz to gunny sacks, while Lighting Designer John Burkland fills the stage with reds and blue hues.
Within the cast, Felicia Curry as Wife provides some amazing vocals and one hopes to see her on more Washington-area stages. A part of almost every number, she particularly shines on "I Ain't Supposed To Be Here" and "Rivers Are Swollen."
In the role of Husband, TC Carson is especially effective on "I Dream A World" and "His Midnight Blue."
Gary E. Vincent's Lover stands out on "Don't Ask" and "What Would I Offer You." His performance is done in a somewhat hyper-camp manner that would seem to reinforce gay stereotypes. This seems an odd directorial decision to take in a show that is attempting to show a balanced view of gay and straight relationships. Additionally, the physical relationship of the men never goes beyond a brief caress or hug, although the husband-wife scene is shown in a much more physical manner.
Roz White Gonsalves as Momma provides comic relief along with parental strength and is patterned after Ms. Steele's own mother. Tracy McMullan and Monique Paulwell as Woman 1 and Woman 2 fill out the ensemble in various roles as members of the Wife's musical entourage, participants in a support group for spouses who discover their husbands are gay and as friends who try to discretely tell the Wife "You may want to watch Lifetime. They have this movie about closets...that swing in and out."
All in all, this play ties into a national discussion on increasing HIV rates among African American populations. According to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics, HIV infection in the U.S. black population has doubled during the last decade, while remaining stable within the country's white population. Meanwhile, black women currently make up 72% of all new infection cases among American females.
While Two Queens One Castle brushes upon the societal homophobia that keeps gay men and lesbians in the closet and living double lives, that is not intended to be its main focus. Ms. Steele has said in recent interviews the play is about deception and then emerging into self-victory. But in the process of examining how one recovers from deceit, she has opened the door on a larger subject that needs to be examined more fully. Let's hope others bring their voices to that discussion.