There are four desks in the office world of The May Queen, a “pod” in Kingston, New York’s Vallor Group Insurance Agency, and the first one you’ll notice belongs to middle-aged Zumba enthusiast Gail (Laura Houck) – a Hawaiian heaven of grass skirt and hula dolls. The desk where Mike (Rob Cameron) works, when he’s not suspended, is a minor mess of homage to New York sports teams and fast food trash. Of the other two desks, one belongs to uptight night school student Dave (Thomas Ian Campbell), and the other awaits the temp who will plunge the pod into chaos: Jen (Abbie Killeen), once the “May Queen” of Kingston High, has come back to her hometown. Her life is now a source of gossip, rivalry, and judgment by her co-workers in The May Queen, at Good Theater. Brian P. Allen directs a vividly appointed and snappily performed production of Molly Smith Metzler’s somewhat small-minded comedy about small-town loyalties and envies, old wounds, and nostalgia.
As Gail, Dave, and Mike gossip behind the back of their hated young manager, Nicole (Hannah Elaine Perry), Good Theater’s actors play up the broadly comedic types in vibrant, deftly timed sitcom-ical fashion. Perry’s nicely drawn Nicole clicks around in heels with a gait and bitchery so stilted that you might actually feel bad for this manager so out of her depth with her defiant subordinates. Houck’s ebullient, frosted-blonde Gail, wearing a series of sweater-robes, speaks in mellifluous self-help with a hard edge: “Stop being a pussy,” she commands anxious Dave, hands already rubbing his shoulders, “and get a massage.” Pent-up Dave, in high-waisted chinos, could use one; Campbell somehow gets his face incredibly red, as he clenches his mouth, mutters, and stalks around tetchily. Finally, Cameron can act a mean bro when he wants to, and his alpha-joker Mike, much adored by his co-workers – and who we first see wasted at 9 a.m. – is a silver-edition bro, with loud, insult-comedic charisma. He breaks all the rules trying to talk to unwilling Jen.
It’s through Jen’s eyes that we watch the office’s sometimes ugly provincialism. Killeen, measured and empathetic, spends much of the first scenes playing her so low that Jen seems to want to disappear into herself; she watches and listens with refreshing wryness and quiet, her mouth slightly agape as if in appalled stupefaction. Progressively provoked by her co-workers’ high-school-like behaviors, she’s finally drawn into what becomes a long and stunningly delivered monologue of stress, exasperation, and glimpses of her life since being a momentary high school luminary.
Turns and reveals ensue, and as they do, the cast gamely shifts the tone; Allen’s production is tight, bright, and smartly performed. It is better than the script itself, which uses its more serious reveals to explain, excuse, and even celebrate Mike’s out-of-bounds behaviors, but doesn’t investigate them with particular nuance. The same could be said about Jen’s own secrets, from which the script retreats as if from something that should not be spoken about. And Mike’s eventual triumph against Nicole – the bullying pleasure he takes in humiliating a younger female boss who has censored him for, after all, stalking a woman and being drunk at the workplace – might give us pause at this particular political moment.
Still, Good Theater’s plucky, talented cast pushes against the limits of the script. Its May Queen delivers a colorful if contentious comedy with deep doses of pathos, as it considers the lure and staying power of the past.
The May Queen, by Molly Smith Metzler. Directed by Brian P. Allen. Produced by Good Theater, at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, through February 26. Visit www.goodtheater.com.
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