nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
February 28, 2008
While on stage Hamlet is one of our greatest tragedies, backstage, apparently, it can be the stuff of pure farce. That's the basic premise of Sean Owens's two-actor, multi-character play, Her Majesty, now at The Red Room as part of the second annual FRIGID New York Festival.
Owens performs in his piece, as well, and, joined by Christina Augello, the two actors each play three different characters. This heightens the farce, because in a world where all six characters occupy the same time and space, they can only be on stage two at a time. So, Owens and Augello are constantly finding reasons to leave the stage so that one of their other characters can enter.
On a regional tour of Hamlet, an aging Actress (Augello) and her dresser (Owens) hash out all of the problems with their show. The Actress's younger and less-talented new husband (later played by Owens) is butchering not only the lead role in the play, but also her career. She was once celebrated for her portrayal of Ophelia, but is now back to the play as Gertrude. There is a nosey reporter about (Augello) determined to get the scoop on why the Queen of Denmark (Augello) would be in the audience that night and what her past connection with the Actress is. Messages are sent swirling about backstage, getting crossed or never received, with all the characters using the nervous Stage Manager (Owens) to deliver their messages.
To make the story work, the two actors are athletic in their energies getting offstage, changing costumes, and re-emerging as a very different character. And that is where the real enjoyment in this piece is. The audience can tell very early on the challenge that faces the two actors and for much of the play, the actors deliver on that challenge. The fact that Owens and Augello are able to convey the frenetic pace of good farce is to their credit, and especially a credit to Owens, as the writer, and the play's director, Kathryn Wood. Her Majesty is campy and tongue-in-cheek and, while some of the jokes don't deliver as great a rush as they could, the play and the actors play well by the rules they set up.
Until they don't.
The play breaks down near the end as the actors break character and stay on stage to go through the plot of the rest of the play without having to continue juggling their characters. Whatever Owens's reason for ending his play this way, it smacks of one thing: he couldn't figure out how to continue using the rules he set up. So, the play ends by admitting that what it was doing for most of the way could not, in the end, be done. For an audience, it is a very empty feeling to have a journey end that way.