Theater review by Helen Shaw
In the sprawling drama queens, Martyna Majok strikes at our current moment, and the result reverberates like a gong. Immigration, the housing crisis, DACA and the legacy of 9/11 are all here in this complicated tragedy, layered like a Russian nesting doll. The play doesn’t entirely work: It’s overwritten, characters can grandstand, and the text’s humor struggles in this LCT3 production. But there’s a thrill in seeing the talented playwright behind the superb Ironbound confidently work on a larger canvas.
When we first meet the Polish Renia (Ana Reeder), she’s considering whether to give shelter, in her Queens basement, to the Ukrainian Inna (Sarah Tolan-Mee). Something about the desperate girl tugs at Renia’s conscience, and in a series of flashbacks we see the development of that troubled mind. The play’s heart is a long first-act sequence set in 2001, when Renia first arrives at the crowded basement. Her sweet but prickly welcome from the Belarusian Pelagiya (Jessica Love), the Afghan Aamani (Nadine Malouf) and the Honduran Isabela (Nicole Villamil) sets up betrayals to come. Majok has written an all-woman The Lower Depths, relocating Maxim Gorky’s sufferers to the end of the A line; with such important material, the play begs for an appropriately deft touch. Unfortunately, director Danya Taymor loads the play with significant pauses—even melodrama. Some performances have real grace, particularly Andrea Syglowski’s short appearance as a wry friend of the furious Inna. But for the most part, they are still ladies-in-waiting; a round of edits and a greater sense of life onstage would be needed for them to become the queens they deserve to be.
Claire Tow Theater (Off Broadway). By Martyna Majok. Directed by Danya Taymor. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. Two intermissions.