Arts & Culture

‘May Queen’ mixes drama with sitcom-like jokes

From left, Jenny Latimer as Nicole and Julie Fishell as Gail Gillespie in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of ‘The May Queen.’
From left, Jenny Latimer as Nicole and Julie Fishell as Gail Gillespie in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of ‘The May Queen.’ Jon Gardiner

Unfulfilled potential and disastrous life choices are at the core of Molly Smith Metzler’s comedy (yes, comedy) now at PlayMakers Repertory Company. The talented cast, tight direction and clever set design make it a sweetly humorous look at human foibles.

Metzler sets her play in her hometown of Kingston, N.Y. In a small insurance company office, temp worker Jen arrives to help with the annual audit. Gail, the busybody mother hen, and David, the wisecracking computer nerd, think she looks familiar, but Jen denies being local.

Her cover is blown when Mike, the former high school football star, recognizes her. He nominated Jen for high school May Queen 15 years earlier, which Jen won. Jen claims she was never attracted to him, but Mike clings to a photo of Jen at his side in a hospital room (his terrible head injury now makes him unsure of what’s real and what’s imagined).

Everyone assumed Jen made a great life for herself, rumors indicating she worked on Wall Street and made great money. Her sudden return generates much speculation, including possible criminal activities.

Jen’s real reasons, along with Mike’s revelations about his own problems, exemplify Metzler’s theme about wasted lives. These poignant, well-acted moments, however, sit uncomfortably within an otherwise sitcom-like framework.

There are great punch lines and lots of physical comedy, but director Vivienne Benesch emphasizes TV office comedy stereotypes, especially for Gail, David and office manager Nicole. When these characters open up about their dashed hopes, it’s hard to make the transition from slick humor to dramatic reality.

Gratifyingly, Nate Miller’s Mike and Andrea Syglowski’s Jen come off as more rounded characters; Syglowski’s lengthy monolog explaining her past is a particularly moving highlight. Rishan Dhamilja’s David becomes an audience favorite through lovably awkward attempts to show off to Jen, to whom he’s secretly attracted. Julie Fishell’s Gail is a riot of new age philosophizing combined with petty backstabbing, while Jenny Latimer dutifully portrays Nicole as perky automaton.

Jan Chambers’ rundown, nondescript office set elicits its own laughs in this amusing evening-length one-act. If it doesn’t live up to its own potential as a more realistic human comedy, the production is a perfect diversion from holiday madness and real-life worries.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

If you go

What: “The May Queen” presented by PlayMakers Repertory Company

Where: Paul Green Theatre, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29-30, Dec. 1-3, 6-10; 2 p.m. Dec. 3-4, 11

Tickets: $15-$72 (Nov. 29- all seats $15)

Info: 919-962-7529 or playmakersrep.org

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