With Americans on the cusp of (fingers crossed!) electing our first female President, Betty Shamieh's cheeky reimagining of how a woman named Hatshepsut became Pharaoh 3,500-plus years ago feels appropriately timely. Mercifully, Fit for a Queen is no staid historical drama. It's a transhistorical mash-up of sensibilities that dispenses with the facts in favor of a feminist farce, albeit one about serious subjects such as slavery, subjugation and sexism.
The cast is draped in costume designer Rachel Dozier-Ezell's alluring, body-baring togas that look more Plato's Retreat than Ancient Egypt. The brief, butt-shaking dance interludes that facilitate scene changes are choreographed to percussion and funk. And the language and accents ping-pong between old-time poetical and modern-day street. This aesthetic fluidity is mirrored in the story, which seems like a lesbian variation on Macbeth as Queen Hatshepsut (April Yvette Thompson, campier than a RuPaul's Drag Race contestant) is encouraged to go for the throne by any means necessary by her favorite slave/lover, Senenmut (Sheria Irving, a standout). While Senenmut's machinations are in large part self-serving—she wants to move up in the world and keep her mistress busy so she can fool around with dudes—she also sees the bigger picture. Like her real-life namesake (who was male), she was of lowly birth but savvy enough to earn a spot at the royal court, and she thinks if the Queen becomes King, it will benefit all women. Sadly, Hatshepsut's own daughter Neferure (Shereen Macklin, convincingly bratty) is invested in maintaining the status quo.
While Fit for a Queen is intellectually stimulating, it's rarely emotionally engaging. Director Tamilla Woodard doesn't manage to make its disparate styles cohere. It takes a good 15 minutes before it becomes clear that the show's meant to be funny. (Once Thompson shows up, all delicious eye rolls and grand gestures, there's no doubt.) Even then, not all of the comedic bits pop (the jokes about the Queen's husband's impotence aren't exactly fresh) and those that do weaken the power of the underlying tragedy. Still, these women command our attention, not just Hatshepsut and Senenmut but playwright Shamieh, too. She's slyly reinventing the past to comment on our present. And hey, it's a lot more (intentionally) amusing than the current Presidential debates.
3LD Art & Technology Center (Off Broadway). Written by Betty Shamieh. Directed by Tamilla Woodard. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Oct 30. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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