Photo: Connor Dalton, a junior at McQuaid Jesuit High School. Connor both enjoyed the show and the class extra credit he gets. 5/11/16
Like all offices, the inhabitants of the Vallor group – a boutique insurance company in Kingston, NY – bring their baggage with them to work.
The fictional office on display at Geva Theater Center’s production of The May Queen – in which no actual work takes place – is both fish bowl family room and therapy couch for the employees who trade Dilbert-like barbs and deep intimacies. The glory of a new Keurig® OfficePRO® coffee maker, the intrigue of office politics behind a non-invitation to Happy Hour at Appleby’s. And repressed memories of high school taking center stage.
The social context in “recessed” Kingston is a snapshot of the struggling middle class pushing back against downward mobility. Several characters, even at 35, live at home to save money. The May Queen herself is now a temp worker eking out a living far below her qualifications, borrowing money and bumming rides. His chair taken by the May Queen, Uncle Carl – perhaps let go because of ageism – is now without benefits and health insurance.
In the office fishbowl, playwright Molly Smith Metzler has swimming a school of easily recognizable social types. Julian Leong as David Lund gives a bravura performance, shifting from sycophant to enabler to office therapist as he writes term papers — using the office computer and printer — for his Master’s Degree in clinical psychology.
On the surface, Julian is a high achieving Asian young man. Not quite the office eunuch, Julian has been mostly ineffectual in love, infatuated in high school with the May Queen who didn’t know he existed, even as she supposedly provided “services” at the Lake to almost every boy in the class. David can’t compete with the studly former multi-letterman, Michael Petracca (Peter O’Connor), whose departure would, as co-worker Gail Gillespie (Kathrn Meisle) says, leave the office bereft of “real men.”
At the same time, Metzler pushes against stereotypes. David is fully assimilated and his academic path is psychology not science or computers. Leong nicely portrays him as the empathetic center of the circle.Gillespie’s character, Gail, is less dimensional. Chatty and sometimes catty, Gail is an energizer bunny pumped up on the Zimbra classes she teaches before work and New Age centering mantras. Like the others, Gail has her issues. Her son has been held back three times in school for his pre-occupation with girls (no doubt diagnosed as ADHD) – a trait perhaps passed down from his mother. But – through Gillespie’s spirited performance – Gail always redeems herself with maternal warmth, salving Nicole’s ego with a well-timed mention of lip gloss.
Nicole Chen (Natasha Warner) is closest to caricature as the Millennial office martinet overly marinated in the business major’s human resource buzzwords and protocols, installing a tiki-like mélange on the communal desk designed to boost group — always referred to as the “pod” — morale. With aplomb, Warner carries off the role as Millennial over her head in the office fishbowl.
Without revealing too much, the May Queen, Jennifer Nash, (Ariel Woodiwiss) has her own demons as high school seemed to set in motion 15 years of self-destructive behavior.
The most interesting character is Michael. On one level, the play allows us – as David might once he finishes his post doc in psychology – to gauge Michael through the lens of clinical diagnoses.
If my friend, a clinical social worker, sees The May Queen, she could readily mark the The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) check list. Without revealing too much: serious boundary issues, disdain for social conventions (rationalization of anti-social, if not borderline sociopathic behavior), grandiosity, a charm that draws willing enablers, a charisma that fuels outward success, limited sense of the consequence of his actions on others, high functioning alcohol use, difficulty maintaining intimate relationships, imagining the motivations of others self-flatteringly, the deft manipulation of others (often exploiting weakness) – so deftly in one instance that the audience cheers him on. Meltzer masks some of Michael’s pathological behavior through the literary device of a head injury, but the DSM symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are palpable.
But through Meltzer’s skill, we don’t necessarily think “the DSM” while we are watching. She has given us an earned sympathetic understanding of Michael. In the dynamic Meltzer has arranged — the ending is realistic rather than saccharine or sentimental — there is room in the fishbowl for self-awareness and growth.
The Geva playbill says The May Queen is “a marvelous comedy with dramatic undertones.” The play is very funny but, for me, the undertones are more like overtones.
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