Honeybees are essential to the environment. Friendships are vital to humans. And both are in peril in “Queen” by Madhuri Shekar. In the world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, Priya Mohanty and Darci Nalepa portray Ph.D. candidates whose friendship and careers are in as much jeopardy as the vanishing bee populations they research when one discovers a possible miscalculation by the other.
“The current conversation around climate change, the disappearance of bees, and our nation’s response to environmental protection continues to be challenging on a daily basis. However, it excites me that playwright Madhuri Shekar has kept this dialogue alive and urgent,” says Artistic Director Chay Yew.
“The issue about the bees disappearing is one that affects us all,” concurs Joanie Schultz, the show’s director. “And then there are the timeless issues of the play, like ethics, values, and how we make important decisions based on what we care about.” For the playwright, it’s the friendships she forged with three female scientists in college.
“When I was in grad school for playwriting, they were doing amazing work in their Ph.D. programs,” says Shekar. “As someone who grew up terrified of science and math, as someone who perhaps internalized the idea that girls aren’t meant to be good at those subjects, having these women in my life was a constant source of inspiration. I loved hearing about their projects, and their commitment to their careers, even when it was really tough.”
“It’s well known that women in the sciences don’t have it easy,” adds Schultz. “We read a statistic that half of all biology graduate students are women, 40% of postdocs are female, but that only 36% are assistant professors and 18% are full professors. The characters in this play are driven, smart, and passionate.”
“I wanted to write about their lives and showcase the passion, creativity and integrity that scientists bring to their work, and to our world,” continues Shekar, whose play received the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.
“With Madhuri’s signature wit and her uncanny ability to weave a complex yet remarkably insightful story, this play is framed by two female Ph.D. science students from different races who want nothing more than to protect our planet and the bees that inhabit it,” says Yew. “Even at the cost of their own friendship.”
While the fictional camaraderie on stage is at risk, real life bonds have formed off stage. Schultz describes her experience with Madhuri as “so much fun because we’ve been able to share stories about the friendships we’ve had. Then there’s our fantastic female actors…[and] Chelsea Warren (scenic design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design), and Janice Pytel (costume design)…Their perspective has been vital to how we’ve conceived the onstage life of this play…Madhuri does a beautiful job fleshing out the unique friendship between women who work together.”
“Queen” performs from April 14 through May 14 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. For tickets ($15-$60) and more information, visit www.victorygardens.org.
(Pictured, from left: Darci Nalepa and Priya Mohanty. Photo by Adam Blaszkiewicz)