Geva play ‘Queen’ explores ethics in today’s post-truth world
“Queen” is a new play about the collapse of bee colonies. And friendship. And the ethics, the alternative facts, the Indian parents setting up blind dates for their children – oh, and saving the world.
All of this, and it’s also “deeply, deeply funny,” says Pirronne Yousefzadeh, the play’s director and also Geva’s new engagement director.
“Queen,” which runs until November 24, opens the Geva Theater Center’s Fielding Studio series. It tells the story of two academics: statistician Sanam Shah (played by Nikhaar Kishnani) and her best friend and PhD candidate Ariel Spiegel (played by Marina Shay), a biologist.
The two are set to publish potentially groundbreaking research into the environmental cause of bee colony collapse disorder. But when Sanam discovers that the numbers no longer add up, she is faced with a dilemma. Do they fudge some numbers to help save the environment (and their careers) or stick to the absolute truth?
Complicating the decision are their academic adviser (Ezra Barnes), who has his own agenda, and Sanam’s (Nik Sadhnani) blind date, which factors into the deliberations.
“The play is so cleverly written that each character has something an audience member can get,” Yousefzadeh says. “There is no right and wrong.”
It’s not just raw science either. Yes, we learn some technical details about the bees, but it’s not “that kind” of game.
“Science jargon cannot just be jargon,” Yousefzadeh says. “It has to be about characters, their will, their ambitions and their dreams.”
It helped the playwright, Madhuri Shekar, to write the characters “like really three-dimensional”, she added. “The heart of the piece is these two doctoral students. candidates and an ethical debate and a crisis, but all in the context of this incredible friendship between two women.
Two women working in a field dominated by men. It is significant that the two male characters in the play play supporting roles. “It’s a bit of a reversal,” Yousefzadeh explains, “and normalizing that is so important.”
The same goes for making sure every second academic room doesn’t feel, well, academic. Yousefzadeh says it’s good theater – not a lecture – in part because of “the pace and liveliness of the dialogue. The characters are super smart and witty.
They are also young protagonists facing a dilemma in the workplace, and Yousefzadeh finds the play particularly intriguing for young professionals. “It’s a great piece that a group of friends can come and see. People will leave with many great questions to discuss at the bar afterwards.
In other words, it’s her kind of acting. During her long directing career across the country, Yousefzadeh has mostly worked on new plays. She is particularly looking for works that “strike the moment in which we live”.
Shekar, the playwright, is certainly of the moment. His writing credits include HBO’s upcoming sci-fi series “The Nevers,” an audio piece titled “Evil Eye” as part of the Audible Emerging Playwright Fund, and the web series “Titus and Dronicus” – a contemporary send-off. of Shakespeare plays with two detectives interrupting the likes of Hamlet with bad news that a ghost’s word is not admissible in court. This is in addition to playing commissions from several theaters across the country.
“Queen” premiered in 2017, and the characters must weigh the current, inconvenient truth that rigging the facts for a greater good might have its perks. This theme clearly resonates with today’s post-truth culture.
During the very first rehearsal, Yousefzadeh made a point of expanding the scope of the piece. “The people in the institutions we used to turn to for moral advice are no longer the ethical North Star,” she explains. One of the play’s vital ethical debates boils down to “How to fight properly when everyone else is fighting badly.”
But in the end, it’s about the people, not their positions. So equally important is what’s at stake for their friendship, career, and livelihood.
There’s a lot to think about – but in Yousefzadeh’s experience, Rochester audiences are up to the task.
This is her fourth time directing Geva, and she says that unlike some parts of the country, theatergoers in Rochester “come ready to listen very carefully. They’re really interested in complex ideas – they’re really hungry for theater that makes you think as well as feel.
If you are going to
What: “Queen”, a play by Madhuri Shekar
When: Until November 24.
Or: Fielding Stage, Geva Theater Center, 75 Woodbury Blvd, Rochester,
Tickets: From $31; available at the box office, gevatheatre.org or by phone at (585) 232-4382.