Volume 73, Number 52 | April 28 - May 4, 2004

THEATER


All female school for scandal at the Connelly

By Davida Singer

Photo by Bob Pileggi
DeeAnn Weir (black dress/black necklace), Gisele Richardson (black tux jacket/gray beard), Valentina McKenzie (white jacket/black beard)
As the only troupe in the country dedicated to presenting plays with all-female casting, The Queens Company has found a special niche for classical theater. In the past four years, they’ve put up eight unique productions, including “Antony and Cleopatra”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, and their latest, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “School for Scandal”, at the Connelly Theatre through mid-May.

“I got the idea for the company in the early 90’s in California, while I was directing two all-male pieces,” says founder Rebecca Patterson. “There was an fascinating dynamic with an all one-gender cast about the nuance of behavior and relationships. I realized when people see men and women on stage, they make assumptions about male-female relationships, and when you remove that reality, you get humanity instead. I’m much more interested in that.”

A few years later, Patterson directed an all-woman “Macbeth” as a graduate production at UCLA. It was a huge success, and she realized contemporary women had an easier time playing male Shakespearean roles than men.

“Renaissance masculinity has nothing to do with male roles now,” she explains. “In Shakespeare’s men, there’s an emotional openness combined with power, and you need this to understand classical theater. Also, it’s important to remember that female actors are extremely discriminated against, and in classical theater there are roles for women of all age groups and the entire range of human experience.”

The Queens Company has recently added new plays to their repertoire, taking from the classical canon and building on that to create pieces tailor made for company members. All of their productions highlight “physically dynamic” work, enabling the actors to release a character’s inner life. Patterson’s other main concern is finding work that can “seduce and entertain”. Why did she choose “School For Scandal”?

“I look for plays that are pleasing to an audience,” she responds. “This has language that is smart and fun, with a heart beating underneath. It deals with the public and private face of people. Do you go with your true desires, or with the crowd? In this election year, we don’t allow our candidates (or other celebrities, like Martha Stuart) to be human. We delight in scandal, and were born to gossip. That’s fine, it’s just how we do it and where we use it that causes problems.”

According to Patterson, “School For Scandal”, written in 1777, is a classical piece that uses comedy to make a statement.

“We don’t hit you over the head, but say it with laughter, and sugarcoating the pill allows it to go very deep.”

The play’s plot revolves around two brothers, and their uncle, just returned from India. One brother is a “debauched rake with a huge heart”, while the other appears pure and upstanding, but is conniving underneath. The two compete over an inheritance, and their true selves are eventually revealed through social scandal.

“What’s also fun here, is the combination of periods we use tech-wise for resonance,” the director notes. “We’ve got costumes from the ‘30’s-ala Dorothy Parker- and we use what looks like a dance set. Lights make the statement, and the set frames it, plus some contemporary music by Nina Hagen and Cher. The biggest challenge for us is doing these shows in the current economic climate. I love huge, ambitious projects, and it’s not easy to do with limited resources.”

“Our essence is about sexual orientation bending-both homo and heterosexual,” she adds. “We don’t shy away from sex. But it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. We’re all just people who fall in love. What’s really interesting is that all-female casting allows you to react to it, no matter where you are with your sexuality. It pushes people only as far as they can go. I’d like our audience to also get a bit more of an appreciation for classical theater and language. And I’d like them to see that their ancestors were raunchy and having just as much fun as they are today.”

“School For Scandal” at The Connelly Theatre, 220 E. 4th St./ thru May 16; Thurs-Mon at 7:30. 212 868-4444.

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