Queen Amarantha


NEW YORK   A WPA Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Charles Busch, Directed by Busch and Carl Andress.  Set and costumes, Eduardo Sicangco; wigs, Elizabeth Katherine Carr; lighting, Michael Lincoln; music and sound, Aural Fixation/Guy Sherman; stage manager, Mark Cole, Artistic director, Kyle Renick.  Opened October 23, 1997, at the WPA Theater.

CAST: Carl Andress (Roderigo), Karen Phillips (Edra), John Wodja (Duke of Agar/Orvall), Charles Busch (Queen Amarantha), John Sloman (Earl of Moreland/Waldemar), Ruth Williamson (Thalia), Marcus Lovett (Adrian).

Playwright-actor Charles Busch sidesteps a campy sendup of the swashbuckler genre in “Queen  Amarantha.”  With adroit staging, flinty dialogue and a good supporting cast, Busch succeeds in a surprisingly serious approach to the subject.

Fusing familiar genre elements in a swiftly paced narrative, Busch rounds up the usual suspects (including an exiled lady-in-waiting, a puppet king and an elusive wayfarer), setting the stage for historical tragedy on a small but ambitious scale.

For himself, Busch creates a fanciful role of daring sexual ambiguity.  Queen Amarantha, the “people’s queen” and daughter of a tyrant, chooses to live as a man.  Enamored of a dashing rogue (Marcus Lovett) who mistakes her for a boy, Amarantha pursues reclusive solitude and abdicates her kingdom to her loyal and impetuous young cousin Roderigo (Carl Andress).  The naive new sovereign is entrapped into marriage by the devious, bloodthirsty Thalia (Ruth Williamson).

There is not much humor here, but some tongue-in-cheek satirical strokes include fleeting glimpses of flagellation and a bit of debauchery in a wooded copse as Amarantha recruits peasants for a rebellion.

In flaming red wigs, bejeweled gowns and musketeer attire, Busch portrays his flamboyant fictional queen with colorful panache.  Williamson provides a curdling depiction of the manipulative rival, while Lovett scores as the ardent pawn and Karen Phillips is fetching as the young maiden Edra.

Eduardo Sicangco’s confined set manages to create a cavernous medieval dungeon of rugged stone staircases and platforms, and focused lighting transforms the cold castle into regal throne rooms and pastoral exteriors.  His costumes of capes, robes and doublets boast the extravagant glamour of classic Hollywood.

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