When I was in graduate school, I organized a conference panel on self-mythologizers. These artists dictate the ways that their work is read, focusing the interpretive lens themselves to highlight and obfuscate personal history. In the case of ...HER’S A QUEEN, it’s like subjecting an audience to a therapy session, only we aren’t allowed to ask any follow-up questions.
I start with this trivial personal story because Neal Medlyn’s play revels in self-mythologizing, and I feel certain he would approve. While the story is nominally about Britney Spears, it functions through a deft weaving of Medlyn’s history and Spears’. The author constantly inserts himself and his experiences into Spears’ story, even placing his words in her mouth. Medlyn employes Spears instrumentally -- she is used as a way for him to understand himself and his history. By extension, the audience realizes we have used her in a similar way for most of her career. Spears, perhaps even more than some other popular culture figures, was put through her social paces. Originally a “pure” Mickey Mouse Club member, her music played off of her schoolgirl innocence until watching her life crumble was even more amusing:
Parts of the script are supposedly taken from interviews with Spears, but Medlyn (and indeed the actors themselves) feel like unreliable stewards of the information. This is because they (and by extension the audience) have no stake in the veracity of quotes, and instead blend their own experiences with Spears, using her exuberance and pain as channels for their own.
...HER’S A QUEEN is Neal Medlyn’s part 4 of the 7 part The Pop Star Series, although it functions without needing to see the others. It constantly refers to these others, as if by stringing together stories of pop stars we might start to understand Medlyn. Is it self-indulgent of Medlyn? Certainly. Does it convict the audience and make us question the ways we chart our own experiences through popular culture and famous people? No question. We are insatiable for blood sports, their form has just changed in the past few hundred years.
Miriam Must delivers a doe-eyed but ludic performance, narrating us through the twisting labyrinth of Spears/Medlyn fact and fiction. Her physicality is evocative, and she manages to embody many of Spears’ mannerisms without doing a one-to-one impression. Again, Spears is employed as a vessel for Must’s anxieties. The surrounding cast are Kevin McLaughlin as the Narrator (seemingly Medlyn’s self-insertion character), Paige Collette as Peainapod, and Chloe Tamowski as Farris. Their characters are not as interesting as Must’s titular one, but they all lend a humorous and sincere tenor to the production. It would be easy to make their roles snide or uncaring, but all three embrace the more ridiculous aspects of ...HER’S A QUEEN with aplomb. It is a pleasure to watch everyone playfully try to do Spears’ classic moves, and the stage direction (particularly in the more violent scenes between Must and Collette) toggles back and forth between fun and frenzy.
...HER’S A QUEEN is also bittersweet because it is Red Eye Theater’s final production in the 14th Street Theater. A quick jaunt around the block reveals most of the businesses have already left the surrounding building -- in almost no time developers will break ground on new apartments, forcing long-term tenants like Red Eye to find new homes or shift “into temporary nomadic mode” (...HER’S A QUEEN press release from Red Eye Theater). ...HER’S A QUEEN runs until September 29th with a GOODBYE/HELLO Party scheduled for Saturday the 29th at 9:45. It promises to be a racus dance party with plenty of laughter and tears to go around, memorializing the radical work Red Eye Theater committed itself to for the last 35 seasons, and, hopefully, will set a tone for the next stage of its evolution.