A Conflict of Professional Ethics and Ambition in NAATCO’s ‘Queen’ Off-Broadway Debut at ART/New York

Close friends and fellow ecology researchers Sanam Shah and Ariel Spiegel have spent the past seven years investigating the cause of the global decimation of the bee population, which they believe to be the result of a toxic pesticide produced by a large agrochemical company, while Sanam, a doctoral student in applied mathematics, discovers what could be a miscalculation in her data. It couldn’t come at a worse time. Professor Philip Hayes, who oversees the project, is set to receive a prestigious award and present his career-defining paper – which has already been accepted for publication by a reputable journal – at a professional conference in a few days only. Will they follow through with the presentation to further their careers, or will they acknowledge the problem, accept the ramifications, and spend another three years researching the matter – which might be too late to save the bees that disappear quickly?

Avanthika Srinivasan and Stephanie Janssen. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Written by Madhuri Shekar, Queen – the inaugural production of the NAATCO (National Asian American Theater Company) National Partnership Project with lead partner Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT, where it performed in May – is now Off-Broadway for a limited engagement at ART /New York Theaters. It is extremely clever work that combines discussions of such important academic topics as bee colony collapse syndrome, Bayes’ law of statistical probability and linear regression analysis with personal background, interrelationships and the motivations of the characters, which explain their contradictory perspectives and choices.

Aneesha Kudtarkar directs the mesmerizing four hands, delivered by an excellent cast featuring Avanthika Srinivasan in an impressive Off-Broadway debut as Sanam, a brilliant young mathematician from a wealthy Indian family (who continues to arrange dates). you for her so she can find the suitable husband she doesn’t really want), and Stephanie Janssen as Ariel, a struggling single mother and beekeeper dedicated to saving the species from extinction. The former’s unwavering adherence to proper procedures and accurate reporting of numbers, and the latter’s dedication to bees and advancing her career so she can provide for her two-year-old daughter and herself, lead to increasingly heated arguments that threaten their collaboration and camaraderie. . The contrasting personalities (Sanam is more controlled, Ariel is more emotional) and character development are well embodied by the two, as their mutual respect and support turns into insults and animosity. Will they find a mutually beneficial solution, or will they become “the queen bee” in the competitive realm of academia?

Avanthika Srinivasan and Ben Livingston. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The female leads are supported by Ben Livingston as Dr. Hayes, a hard-nosed academic who belittles his colleagues at other institutions, plays favorites with his two students, and is only too willing to let them manipulate their study results. . advantage. And Keshav Moodliar, as a blind date arranged by Sanam and Wall Street financier Arvind Patel, adds humor to the show with his analysis of how to win at poker and his determination to marrying her, moving her to New York and supporting her, after they just met, contrary to Sanam’s intention of being an empowered professional woman (Srinivasan’s reactions to all of this are equally funny). He also adds another serious economic/political note in his acknowledgment of their inherent bias against the corporate giant and pesticide producer, whose shares he trades, with which the women approached their research, suggesting that the study was wrong from the start.

Keshav Moodliar and Avanthika Srinivasan. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Minimal art design effectively enhances the theme without distracting from the show’s words and message. Junghyun Georgia Lee’s simple set of a movable table (with the audience seated on three sides of the theater) and Yuki Nakase Link’s overhead lighting both take on the hexagonal shape of a honeycomb. Sound effects and original music by UptownWorks (Daniela Hart, Bailey Trierweiler and Noel Nichols) include the subtle buzzing of bees, and costumes by Phuong Nguyen indicate the socio-economic status of the various figures.

Queen presents an intriguing debate on a hot topic with resonant political, ecological and ethical overtones, in a production that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Duration: approximately 1h45 without intermission.

Queen plays through Friday, July 1, 2022 at NAATCO, performing at ART/New York Mezzanine Theater, 502 West 53rd Street, New York. For tickets (priced at $35), go on line. Everyone must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID to enter the building and must wear a mask at all times while inside.

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