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Theater Review: “Queens”

“Queens” plays through July 29, 2018, at La Jolla Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).
Photo credit:
Jim Carmody.

The women in Martyna Majok’s new play “Queens” are immigrants who have left family, friends and homeland in search of a “better life” in the U.S. Majok knows this subject well: she is an immigrant from Poland who has not only found a better life but recently won a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for her play “Cost of Living.”

Carey Perloff (who recently directed The Old Globe’s wonderful “A Thousand Splendid Suns”) helms “Queens” in its West Coast premiere through July 29 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre.

The immigrants are from various countries and situations, from Honduras to Afghanistan, Ukraine to Syria. Each has a story. Ukrainian Inna, for example, agreed to marry an American man in Florida in order to get to the U.S., only to find him abusive. She fled – and walked to New York.

They will each spend some time in the same shabby, illegal underground apartment in Queens, New York, over a span of 16 years (the play jumps back and forth from 2001 to 2017), and share it with one to six other women like themselves.

The play is in a sense anchored by Renia (Brenda Meaney), a Polish immigrant who is seen both when she first arrived at the apartment and then in the present when she has become something quite other.

These live in the Neverland of the uprooted. Brave but fearful, hopeful but wary, most of them speak poor English and are not inclined to trust, but all are in need of human connection – and a place to stay. The problem is that they also are (and need to be) invisible. But they also need work, and will likely find it cleaning other people’s houses.

“Queens” doesn’t have a traditional plot. It’s more a portrait of the lives of these women, their pain, hope, determination, and disappointment. The time switches and untranslated conversations that confuse us might be in a way analogous to the difficulty they have in adjusting to this unfamiliar situation alone.

Perloff has assembled a terrific cast of six who portray 10 women, all utterly credible whether expressing anger, heartbreak or loneliness – or wondering whether they did the right thing. It’s a deeply affecting snapshot of the immigrant experience.

David Israel Reynoso’s subterranean set looks suitably cramped and the subway noise overhead (by Mark Bennett) sounds right too. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting is also effective. I did wonder a bit what the clothes hanging onstage are intended to convey.

These immigrant women are strong though fearful, and what they fear most is being forgotten, as the try to convince themselves that “you gotta lose some things sometimes to make room for better life.”

The details

“Queens” plays through July 29, 2018, at La Jolla Playhouse’s Potiker Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive (on the UCSD campus).

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org