Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Queen of Basel
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and Vanity Fair

Andy Lucien, Dalia Davi, and Christy Escobar
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Swedish playwright August Strindberg's 1888 play Miss Julie is an exemplar of early realistic drama, but it's marred by the playwright's revulsion toward independent women and his belief that any man, regardless of social status or background, was by nature dominant over any woman. Playwright Hilary Bettis takes Strindberg's play and gives it a thrilling new perspective in Queen of Basel, receiving its world premiere at Washington's Studio Theatre.

Strindberg's play pits Julie, daughter of a Swedish nobleman, against Jean, her father's valet, and Christine, the family cook and Jean's fiancée. Bettis' script moves beyond the basic issues of sexual identity and class to examine three Latinx characters, each with a distinct point of view and a backstory.

The setting is contemporary Miami, against the background of the annual Art Basel festival. Julie (Christi Escobar) is the daughter of a real estate tycoon hosting a riotous Art Basel party upstairs in the hotel he owns; Christine (Dalia Davi), a cocktail waitress, is a refugee from violence in Venezuela, where her mother and daughter still live; and Christine's fiancé John (Andy Lucien), son of a Haitian father and a Cuban mother, is an Uber driver with aspirations to go into business.

A disused hotel kitchen used for storage is conveyed with incisive detail by scenic designer Debra Booth: cartons of paper products and pallets of soda cans, serving trays and coffee urns, an overhanging exhaust pipe. Ivania Stack's costumes are perfect, too, specifically Julie's sleek green velvet dress and the two outfits that show Christine's personalities at work and off duty.

Julie has fled to this space to escape paparazzi after getting into a drunken confrontation with her father and crashing into a tray of drinks being served by Christine. Julie thinks she feels empathy for people who, unlike her, can't afford $13,000 bottles of wine; while she's maddening to the people around her, she's sincere and not unsympathetic. (Julie claims Latina kinship to Christine because her late mother was Colombian, but she's primarily a child of privilege.)

The kicker is that Julie doesn't know anything about Christine or John. Christine didn't grow up in Venezuela thinking she would find employment serving drinks while wearing a Playboy bunny knockoff costume ("Men grab you, but they tip"), but she knows there are things she has to do if she's going to get her family to safety in the United States. Julie can't see beyond John's skin color and his humble life experience; she's surprised he drinks wine instead of beer and patronizingly offers to bankroll his business because she thinks he's an immigrant.

The stakes are high for all three of them, and the actors are equally matched and watchable. Director José Zayas brings out the risks to all three through the drinking, the brawling (admirable fight choreography by Robb Hunter), the lust and the disillusionment, and the bristling use of language.

Studio Theatre
Queen of Basel
March 6th - April 7th, 2019
In the Milton Theatre
By Hilary Bettis
Julie: Christy Escobar
Christine: Dalia Davi
John: Andy Lucien
Directed by José Zayas
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or