Queens Boulevard (the musical)

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

For a playwright so polymorphously collaborative and open-sourced that he challenges the very notion of individual authorship, Charles Mee has a remarkably consistent, recognizable style. Whether he’s addressing military savagery (Iphigenia 2.0), gender politics (Big Love) or the creative process (bobrauschenbergamerica), Mee’s stock-in-trade is a distinctively odd blend of earnestness and pastiche. A relentless cutup artist—he collides karaoke numbers with classical speeches and makes jokey caricatures cry real tears—Mee may wink at theatrical conventions, but he never smirks—let alone sneers—through his material.

In Queens Boulevard (the musical), an alternately charming and ungainly multicultural jamboree, Mee essentially throws a lavish, heartfelt party for New York City’s most diverse borough. Guests at the wedding of Vijay (Arison) and Shizuko (Barall) cavort in traditional Indian and Japanese costumes on Mimi Lien’s festive scenic re-creation of Jackson Heights’ polyglot street life; Russian bath denizens do a swiveling striptease to Pakistani qawwali music (in sprightly choreography by Peter Pucci); the playlist riffs gleefully through francophone rap, Okinawan folk-pop and ABBA karaoke. Mee’s loose-limbed plot—based on an Indian Kathakali play and inflected with Homer—sends his newlyweds on diverging quests, all the better for them to get instructively tangled in nets of social discord and obligation. Vijay’s friend Abdi (Moayed) passionately hammers home Mee’s point: that the “social love” of a community “makes a safe place for our personal love to flourish.” If Mee doesn’t quite dramatize this sentiment, it still gleams encouragingly amid the neon and glitter. Dig in the dancing Queens, indeed.

Rob Kendt

Signature Theatre Company. By Charles Mee. Dir. Davis McCallum. With Amir Arison, Michi Barall, Arian Moayed. 1hr 45mins. No intermission.