Last night was my first visit to In the Heart of the Beast Theatre to see their new production, Queen. Hours laters, I’m still pouring over this incredible production, trying to savor all of its magical, wondrous, and heartbreaking moments. Queen follows the journey of a grandmother who has lost her grandson at the hands of gun violence. Through her despair and her loss, a story of grief, passion, and a need for change unfolds.
I’m unaccustomed to seeing theater that makes uses of masks and puppetry and this show does absolutely incredible things. From actual puppets used across props and bodies onstage, masks, and objects used to make other puppets (such as paper, which is artfully folded and molded by the actors on stage), a vivid, raw world is created that is forever shifting and changing as the grandmother’s journey changes. Accompanied by beautiful music and highly poetic words, a magical sort of world is created that is not quite ours but feels familiar none the less. It reminded me greatly of Beasts of the Southern Wild and creates a similar affect of bringing the audience into a fantastical world to make a strong statement about current affairs. There is a lot packed into a short show, but the piece flows wonderfully, allowing us to relish in moments of beauty and moments of confusion. One element that I loved deeply about this form of storytelling were the metaphors and symbols that called to mind certain ideas and thoughts but didn’t make the audience choose only one to focus one. The use of Ursa Major, for example, draws many associations: the constellation (tied with the use of stars throughout the show), the Greek myth connected to the constellation (which is about a woman and her son), the idea of bears being strong and how they relate to women. This open-ended affect is mesmerizing and powerful, allowing for certain moments – the shooting itself, the grandmother being locked in a cage and burned (is it an abstract interrogation? Is it a mental institution? Is it her own grief trapping her in?) to become stronger and poignant.
I loved seeing all the different uses of bodies and objects, as well as projections and sounds that were incorporated in this piece and it’s a show I’d love to see more than once, to let the poetry wash over me, though the story was heartbreaking and I found myself weeping more than once. While the news is continually filled with gun violence (especially police shootings) and protests such as the ones in Charlotte in response to this violence, a show like this captures a tense, cultural power for its timeliness and honesty that cannot be described by a mere review. However, it can be seen by the passion and engagement of the actors onstage. “May my anger remain real and smaller than my love,” the grandmother states at the end of the show. It is a struggle to do so in our current world, but this production gives hope, as well and working to make the grandmother’s wish for her story a reality: “I have come to set the world on fire. I wish it was already burning.”
Queen is written by Erik Ehn and Junauda Petrus and directed by Alison Heimstead. It is playing now through October 2nd at In the Heart of the Beast. Show and ticket information can be found at In the Heart of the Beast’s website.