Theater Review: Is The May Queen an Indictment of the Male Gaze or an Apologia for a Stalker? | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Theater Review: Is The May Queen an Indictment of the Male Gaze or an Apologia for a Stalker?

Posted by on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 9:19 AM

click to enlarge Julie Fishell as Gail Gillespie in The May Queen - PHOTO BY JON GARDINER | COURTESY OF PLAYMAKERS REPERTORY COMPANY
  • photo by Jon Gardiner | courtesy of PlayMakers Repertory Company
  • Julie Fishell as Gail Gillespie in The May Queen

The May Queen
★★★
Through Dec. 11
PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill


Molly Smith Metzler surely intended her play The May Queen as more than an apologia for a stalker, but it’s hard to leave the current production at PlayMakers Repertory Company without the nagging sense that her critique of an annual, real-world rite of spring in a small New York State town, and of the social pecking order found in high schools everywhere, has somehow lost its way.

Metzler’s hometown of Kingston has named a May Queen every spring since 1916. The tradition continues despite the ritual’s possibly sinister origins as a sacrificial pagan fertility rite, one documented in a morbid poem by Tennyson and complex music by Stravinsky. Reflecting on her own experiences on the court of Kingston’s May Queen, Metzler noted in a 2016 interview that the honorific placed “a target on your head,” singling a young woman out for the briefest of accolades as a small community’s supposed ideal, followed by years, or perhaps even a lifetime, of being not-so-silently measured against that ideal.

In Metzler’s play, former May Queen Jen Nash (Andrea Syglowski) is forced to confront this reality. She’s returned home suddenly and begun doing temp work at a dispiriting “boutique” insurance company when her officemates, Gail (veteran Julie Fishell) and David (Rishan Dhamija), goad her into talking about her fleeting, bygone reign.

As Jen’s tale unfolds, Metzler’s script underlines the “queen’s” lack of agency throughout the election process. The criteria for nomination—how a young girl is viewed from a distance by Mike (Nate Miller), a high school football star—surely is meant to evoke genre theorist Laura Mulvey’s thoughts on the male gaze. And the degree to which David regresses into his tenth-grade obsession with Jen is creepy.

So it’s strange that Metzler is ultimately most intent on redeeming Mike, once merely a jerk in high school and then, after a head injury sustained in a car crash, Jen’s full-fledged stalker. (The same accident leaves his older brother—Jen’s actual boyfriend—in a permanent semi-vegetative state.)

Through his community’s support, Mike has overcome most of his injuries and bootstrapped himself into the top salesman’s slot at the agency where Jen’s been placed. When her sudden reappearance reignites thoroughly unwanted attentions that still seem benign to outside eyes, Mike’s officemates take his part and ostracize Jen.

Many stalking narratives go this way. But most don’t exonerate the stalker to the degree that Metzler does, through the plot device of his brain injury and by making his quarry culpable for an all-important but misleading photograph that supposedly triggers his years in pursuit of her.

It’s also odd that Metzler ultimately reverts to blaming the victim in this work, which PlayMakers has mistakenly labeled a comedy, and odder still that the playwright denies her title character the magnanimity she shows her problematic male lead. For some reason, a male deus ex machina appears in the final scene—not to save Jen, but only to provide a humble, provisional pathway out of the script’s self-inflicted cul de sac.

It’s a meager reward for a woman who’s faced as much adversity as Jen has. But apparently this critique of a small-town girl-child rite can afford no better.

Tags: , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

In the last 5 years, 11 of the 15 musicals NRACT produced were premieres in the region. I commend them …

by James Ilsley on Theater Review: Dogfight's Regional Premiere at NRACT Is Rich in Emotion but Meager in Staging (Arts)

Instead of luxury apartments(AHEM Carborro) and new restaurants, build more parking?!(Just one parking garage would help a lot, cover it …

by ammi on The Bookshop Brought Many Rare and First Editions—and Two Famous Cats—to Franklin Street for Thirty-Two Years (Arts)

Most Recent Comments

In the last 5 years, 11 of the 15 musicals NRACT produced were premieres in the region. I commend them …

by James Ilsley on Theater Review: Dogfight's Regional Premiere at NRACT Is Rich in Emotion but Meager in Staging (Arts)

Instead of luxury apartments(AHEM Carborro) and new restaurants, build more parking?!(Just one parking garage would help a lot, cover it …

by ammi on The Bookshop Brought Many Rare and First Editions—and Two Famous Cats—to Franklin Street for Thirty-Two Years (Arts)

WELCOME TO THE GREAT BROTHERHOOD.
Do you want to be a member of Illuminati as a brotherhood that will make …

by peter bello on Movie Review: A Dog's Purpose Rolls Over and Plays Dead Under Its Own Heart-Tugging Weight (Arts)

The last thing Chapel Hill needs is another damn restaurant.

by Chrysser on The Bookshop Brought Many Rare and First Editions—and Two Famous Cats—to Franklin Street for Thirty-Two Years (Arts)

Wow. I guess you can't recognize brilliant satire when you see it. This was an amazing performance that if you …

by Sam Bayer on ADF Review: Hillel Kogan's We Love Arabs Lags Behind a Cultural Conversation Already Well Underway in Our Region's Performing Arts Scene (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation