Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

The May Queen
PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

Julie Fishell, Jenny Latimer, Andrea Syglowski,
and Rishan Dhamija

Photo by Jon Gardiner
Though the weather outside might be frightful, PlayMakers at the Paul Green Theatre at UNC's Center for Dramatic Art, transport you to the "lusty month of May" with their production of Molly Smith Metzler's The May Queen. It tells the story of the employees of an insurance company in the playwright's hometown of Kingston, New York. Every year in May, Kingston High School crowns a lucky girl May Queen, complete with all the pomp and circumstance of a prom. The entire school votes and, while people may not remember who their class president was, everyone in Kingston remembers the May Queen. When a former May Queen returns to her hometown under mysterious circumstances, taking a job no one would have expected, we see just how popularity and great expectations can become the ultimate burden.

Metzler says that her play's inspiration was an interaction she had with a former high school classmate who was very apologetic for the way he had treated her so long ago, something of which she had no recollection. Out of this she has drawn a narrative filled with voices familiar to all of us, exploring the ways other people shape our narrative while we try to shape it ourselves.

The single-set production opens in a glum office, and we hear the pop standard "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as one of the cubicle desks lights up with tropical island decorations; this will be a reoccurring delight throughout the production. It is the start of a new work day, and David Lund, performed with a simple sweetness and naïveté by Rishan Dhamija, is startled by the entrance of colleague Mike Petracca, a commanding Nate Miller. Mike is apparently drunk and not supposed to be there, as he has been reprimanded for previous infractions and restricted from the premises by their hard-as-nails boss Nicole, a hilarious Jenny Latimer. Mike has brought a present for the newly hired temp Jen Nash, played by Andrea Syglowski.

Next we meet the brash and animated Gail Gillespie, an outstanding Julie Fishell. As everyone learns that Jen was the May Queen of 1999, accolades are rightfully bestowed. The praise does not last long, however, as the details of Jen and Mike's past begin to come to light. Why has Jen come back, and why to a bottom-rung temp job like this one? The answer is a heartbreaking truth that will come to light as this play unfurls.

Director Vivienne Benesch has done a beautiful job weaving the scenes together and allowing for the humor and pathos to happen organically. Jan Chambers's scenic design superbly captures this run-down cubicle office, from the moldy tile ceiling to the gray linoleum floor. The beauty is in the details, from the thrown pencil stuck in the tile ceiling to the leftover busted balloons serving as a ghostly reminder of an office party of days gone by. Gail's cubicle is not the only one that functions as a telling portrait of its inhabitant. The inspirational posters that hang on the back wall, showing beautiful scenic views and words like "Goal" and "Drive," serve as eerie reminders of what these characters are expected to strive for, yet fall short of on a daily basis.

In an exceptional cast, Ms. Fishell stands out. She is a familiar face on the PlayMakers stage but a true chameleon, disappearing into every role. Making her PlayMakers debut, Ms. Syglowski is sensational in her honest depiction of a woman who, despite overwhelming circumstances, continues to press on. You cannot help but weep for her at the end of this production.

From high school memories to office banter, one can find much to identify with in this play, a poignant reminder of how the past can come back to haunt us at any time. The cold of winter waits for these characters outside their office, and when we leave the The May Queen, we feel it, too.

The May Queen is presented by PlayMakers at the Paul Green Theatre at UNC's Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 through December 11, 2016. Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-962-7529. The play contains some adult themes and language and is recommended for audiences 14 and older. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. There is no intermission.

Playwright: Molly Smith Metzler
Director: Vivienne Benesch
Scenic Designer: Jan Chambers
Costumer Designer: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Designer: Scott Bolman
Sound Designer: Anna Warda Alex
Video Designer: Dominic Abbenante
Cast: (In order of appearance)
David Lund: Rishan Dhamija
Mike Petracca: Nate Miller
Gail Gillespie: Julie Fishell
Nicole: Jenny Latimer
Jen Nash: Andrea Syglowski

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