Theater Review: QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (Victory Gardens)

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by Stephen Best on February 7, 2022

in Theater-Chicago


After over 750 plus days dark, Victory Gardens Theater is mounting its first new production of their mainstage season and of the year. Queen of the Night, written by travis tate, is a two-character play proving no one can get under your skin quite like family. Directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Ken-Matt Martin, it focuses on a divorced father, Stephen (Andre Teamer) and queer adult son, Ty (Terry Guest) — but thankfully, this isn’t the same old unaccepting parental tale we have seen so many times before. Each character has secrets to reveal, but sexuality isn’t one of them. tate, a queer, black playwright himself, spins a web of two men who know exactly who they are, if not where they are, in their lives. Trying to recapture the fun from camping trips taken back when Ty was a lad, this father and son might be camping in a Texas state park, but there is no backwards thinking on display.

Former President Barak Obama once said “Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.” Those words kept echoing through my mind while I was watching this play unfold. While both men might have been a bit out of their individual comfort zones, each character’s journey was to their own self-acceptance. There wasn’t any visible resentment or discomfort between them. Perhaps peppering in a little might have made for an edgier and more engrossing production. There were so many extraneous distractions to the plot: a growling bear we only hear in the distance; poor cellphone reception; occasional texts from another son not featured in the play; and, finally and most humorously, a series of snippets of Celine Dion power ballads played over a handheld radio. Each pulling so much focus from a hard-to-pin-down main narrative that I found myself thinking “get to the point already!” This not so dynamic duo is so congenial with one another that any residual guilt over a past divorce or any discomfort with regard to being homosexual in the black community barely registered a blip on the radar.

Playing out in the upstairs Richard Christiansen Theater, the action all takes place in a campground. Sydney Lynne’s scenic design impresses even in such an intimate performance space. Rueben D. Echoles is quickly establishing himself as the go to person for solid costuming at medium-sized theaters. Last week, Echoles had glamorous divas dressed head to toe in sequins and gowns for Mercury Theater Chicago’s Women of Soul. Here, Echoles real world costuming helps ground this tale; nothing remotely glamorous about tube socks in sleeping bags or earth tone, thigh-high, bootfoot waders for fishing. Sim Carpenter and Conner Sale’s lighting, ranging from dawn to dusk and flickering fireflies in the background is an essential element to the proceedings. Even G Clausen’s sound design had that menacing bear’s growl sounding close enough to elicit fear, but far enough away that we don’t feel in any present danger.

Queen of the Night felt a bit like a theater workshop. The moments of real substance, a father struggling with the fact he has just been downsized out of a job, guilt over not always being there for his children in the aftermath of a divorce, the self-acceptance of a gay man in the black community, were buried under a lot of superfluous filler. Sifting through the peripheral, Queen had some real moments of promise. It may not be a reigning hit yet, but it is a provocative night of theater for those craving such.

photos by Adrian O. Walker

Queen of the Night
Victory Gardens
Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Wed at 2; Tues at 7:30 (except Feb. 15); Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on March 13, 2022
for tickets, call 773.871.3000 or visit VG

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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