Research on bees, complex dynamics fuel the entrancing ‘Queen’  

L-R, Kjerstine Anderson, Mike Ryan and Uma Paranjpe play researchers in "Queen," presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

If, like some of us, you’re a sucker for plays that burrow into the social ramifications of complex scientific issues while simultaneously exploring emotional relationships among characters, you’re likely to be entranced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of Madhuri Shekar’s “Queen.” 

In 90 minutes (no intermission) and several scenes, each with its own set (nimbly rearranged for minimum disruption), four characters interact in unexpected but believable ways. 

Ecology researcher Ariel (a fierce Kjerstine Rose Anderson) and her quieter colleague, Sanam, a mathematician (Uma Paranjpe), are postdocs at University of California, Santa Cruz. They’ve been working together harmoniously for the past six years on a project in Dr. Hayes’ lab (Mike Ryan, avuncular and controlling).

The project has broad ramifications, and the stakes are high. The postdocs are about to announce their results, which will be published in the scientific journal Nature, and which will elevate their status as scientists and ensure permanent, prestigious employment. Their thesis (no spoilers here): The cause of the worldwide depletion of the honeybee population, a disaster on many levels, is due to the pesticide created by the giant corporation Monsanto. 

Their thrill at this final proof, to be presented at an imminent scientific conference, is palpable. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Something does. 

Just hours away from the conference, Sanam discovers that the figures don’t quite add up. There must be a glitch, a slight error that she’ll discover if she stays up all night at her computer. 

The playwright ratchets up the tension. The three characters—postdocs and professor—each have a different reaction to the dilemma, and in fact a series of changing, ongoing reactions, which are increasingly complex but boil down to whether to slightly fudge the mathematical stats for the greater good of taking down a faceless, presumably evil-doing corporation. The ethics under consideration are not as simplistic as they seem. 

Along the way, there’s an interesting and unexpected romance (Deven Kolluri as Arvind) and Ariel’s mixed concerns as a single mother from a working-class background with a devotion to bees. A clearcut threat to the longtime close friendship of the two women rings true. 

L-R, Deven Kolluri and Uma Paranjpe play characters in an interesting relationship in Madhuri Shekar’s “Queen.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

The beginning and ending of the play are beautifully written, initially setting up everything that’s at stake and ultimately not solving all the problems but offering a poignant conclusion, nevertheless.  

The middle, though, is long and dense, the arguments between the two researchers and between them and the professor so detailed and somewhat repetitive, that it risks short-term audience disengagement. (But the evolving relationship between Arvind and Sanam is clever and surprising.)  

Despite the overwritten, too-talky middle, the play presents a variety of issues—ethical, social class, university protocol and more—and is enhanced by a superb cast under Miriam A. Laube’s detailed, sensitive direction. James Ard’s sound design, somehow incorporating the essence of buzzing bees with a lively score, is particularly charming. Altogether, there’s not a false moment in the production, and plenty to think about afterward.  

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Queen” runs through March 31 at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $27-$82 at (877) 662-8978 or  

The post Review: Research on bees, complex relationships fuel TheatreWorks’ entrancing ‘Queen’   appeared first on Local News Matters.

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