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CurtainUp Review
Leaving Queens

The Company of Leaving Queens (Photo: Edwina Kippy Rudy)

In a nation of immigrants, practically all of us have tales to tell. Sometimes, the pain of one generation is hidden from the next. Often, such buried stories need to be exhumed in order for us to understand our parents and ourselves. But what's interesting and important to us, doesn't necessarily translate into an absorbing play. Leaving Queens, refers to the move of Ms. Ryan's father from Jackson Heights, Queens to Yonkers but is more about the move from Ireland to Queens than the moving away from it. But the problem is not the ambiguity of its title but that Leaving Queens adds little that's new or newly inspiring to the immigrant drama genre. Despite Kim Sherman's admirable attempt to brighten things up with a Celtic flavor, this is as dark and doleful a musical as I've seen in a while.

Reading through the background literature that came with my program, it looks as if the problem may be a case of not leaving well enough alone. The play had its genesis as a short play submitted to Primary Stages for an immigrant play project. That piece, aptly titled The Guard, had two young people, a brother and sister, investigating their grandfather's experience as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art. The fact that this involvement with MOMA became something of a family tradition and that their father knew Edward Steichen probably made for a colorful one-acter. However, in trying to build this into a full-fledged play by linking the secretive, hard-drinking's father's story to that of his daughter's problems as a single mother is more forced than forceful. Making that daughter a photographer who enters a competition at MOMA which turns out to be the means towards solving all the family's problems just doesn't work.

I'd like to be able to tell you that the weakness of the plot is offset by powerful performances and staging, but the faultlines running through this little show are wider than the Andreas fault. Alice M. Vienneau who plays the lead has excellent musical stage credentials, but she is less than at her best as Megan. Barbara Tirrell as her mother and Cynthia Sophiea, the kindly Miss Cleaver Smith who paves the way for Megan to better know her father and herself, have their moments. In general though, all seven cast members, including young Alexander Bonnin, seem weighed down by the sluggish story and direction. Set designer Anita Stewart's tall Venetian blinds used for the various settings are more distracting than inventive. A bare bones set with a few chairs would have been just as effective.

The immigrant genre does always have potential as a play or musical, and without requiring a big production. A recent Off-Broadway musicalization of Mark Harelik's play, The Immigrant comes to mind. Ms. Ryan who, in an interview declared herself to be hooked on musicals, might have better luck if next time, like Mr. Harelik, she leaves the lyrics to a seasoned lyricist and instead concentrates on the supporting story.

Book & lyrics by Kate Moira Ryan
Music by Kim D. Sherman
Directed by Allison Narver.
Cast: Alexander Bonnin, Sean Dooley, Jim Jacobsen, Paul Niebanck, Cynthia Sophiea, Barbara Tirrell and Alice Viennau.
Set Design: Anita Stewart
Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton
Costume Design: Loisa Thompson br> Music director: Paul Ascenzo Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including 10-minute intermission
Women's Project & Productions Theater, 424 W. 55th St. (9/10th Avs.) 239-6200
2/25/01-3/18/01; opening 3/01/01.
Tue-Sat @8PM, Sun @7:30PM Sat & Sun @3PM --$45; $10/High School Rush, $15/College & Senior Rush, day of performance at BO only.

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 3/01 performance


2001 CD-ROM Deluxe

The Broadway Theatre Archive

(C)Copyright 2001, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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