Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
What the playwright has accomplished here is to show how easily one could get swept up into a cause, such as the Ku Klux Klan, without having any real intended malice, but she also shows the ultimate price one pays by crossing that line into hate. If The Queens of the Golden Mask, at Ivoryton Playhouse, ultimately needs more work to fully succeed, it is already quite a scary and disorienting evening of theatre.
The play begins in a small town in Alabama in the summer of 1961. The wonderfully designed set, by Daniel Nischan, is of a lovingly decorated kitchen and dining room, with two exterior areas on either side of the stage. The parade of women who occupy this house complain about the heat and what they are going to bake and their husbands, and there is a great deal of laughter and fun.
As it happens, the company of actresses who have been cast in The Queens of the Golden Mask are terrific across the board. If there is one particular character that the audience initially follows in this opening scene it is Rose, portrayed ideally by Anna Fagan. Rose is a bit of an outsider, having just recently moved to Alabama with her husband. In a way, we see the seemingly benign gathering of women through her eyes, as the playwright gradually sets the scene.
There are other characters who stand out, including the very funny Bethany Fitzgerald as Kathy, who looks way beyond nine months pregnant, and the infectious Bonnie Black as Fifi, ever present in trying to get things in order. Faith (the lovely and ingratiating Gerrianne Genga) sells Avon products on the side, and the ever-smiling Jean is played excellently by Jes Bedwineck. Indeed, this is a group of ladies anyone could fall in love with.
That is the trap that the playwright sweeps the audience into before revealing the dagger underneath. Holding court is the majestic and commanding Ellen Barry as Ida, but referred more often to as Moma. Though initially appearing as a nice old lady, she is the one who actually pulls the strings in this "ladies auxiliary" of the Ku Klux Klan. The seventh member of the group is perhaps the most troubled: the quiet Martha Nell, played with heart-stopping intensity by Sarah Jo Provost.
Without revealing too much of the plot, the first act depicts an induction for the new members to join this women's "organization." Carole Lockwood and her director Jacqueline Hubbard do a great job, ever so slowly revealing more and more about the dark side of this group, with the image of all seven women in their Klan robes and full headgear burning bright at the conclusion of the first act.
Unfortunately, The Queens of the Golden Mask tries to take on too much in the second half, feeling disjointed and sometimes sporadic. Still, the playwright has latched onto an extremely scary subject and, what's more, shows how easy it is to become part of a hate group. It would be nice to say that the topic and people onstage belong to a remote time and place. Sadly, one only has to look at a newspaper or watch the news to see that the subject examined in The Queens of the Golden Mask is still timely, which makes the whole show all the more frightening.
The Queens of the Golden Masks, through November 18, 2108, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St, Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.