Sunday, June 28, 2015

Queen Amarantha: An Otherworld Theatre Production

The last time I received free passes to see live theatre in Chicago, the play I attended was poorly thrown together with a cliché ending and unconvincing actors (the only notable player was the actor whose character turned out to be just a figment of someone else's imagination in the end). It was fun only because it was a venue I had never been to and I was there with a friend; otherwise, it was a travesty.

Therefore, I wasn't expecting much from this small theatre production when I was offered free tickets. So I was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome: Queen Amarantha, a production of the Otherworld Theatre Company (whose website describes them as "a science fiction and fantasy theatre company"), was a triumph all around. The performance took place at the City Lit Theater and starred Moira Begale as the titular queen, who takes the throne following the death of her father but never feels like she fits in with the monarchy or in the conventional role of a woman. Instead, she likes to hunt, flirt with both men and women alike, and dress in commoner's (and men's) clothes in order to rub elbows with her people, She has a close relationship with her cousin, Roderigo, who has dreams of power without really knowing what it is.

The real peak of the story comes with the appearance of Amarantha's childhood friend, Thalia (a manic pixie nightmare of a girl, played to delirious perfection by Mary-Kate Arnold). Though Amarantha trusts her implicitly, the audience soon finds that she's got treachery in mind and at once, she sets to work to destroy the queen's reputation. In the aftermath of her friend's terrible betrayal, Amarantha flees with her lover in hopes of a different life; but while she is away, Thalia is wreaking mad havoc on the kingdom, using Roderigo as her pawn. When word reaches Amarantha, she has to choose between remaining free or taking back her kingdom, coming to her cousin's rescue, and clearing her name. I was completely enthralled by the story and the performances. And the set, though simple, was also versatile: it doubles as crumbling ruins and a lavish, shadowy throne. Meanwhile, the costumes were both extravagant and occasional props for comic relief.

Begale is compelling and believable as the tomboyish queen, and her performance never waivers. I actually recalled seeing her in a previous show, The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret, back in 2012 at Mary's Attic, and the reason I remembered her was because she stood out as especially talented. Here, she is equally credible and I imagine her going places.

Similarly, of the remarkable cast, another stand-out performance was that of Arnold. She brings the devious Thalia to life in such a way that the character is, in equal part, charismatic and terrifying.

This show doesn't run much longer; if you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up!

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