For some, growing up Black in America is to be a stranger to the concept of the All-American. As few as two generations back, a Black father was seen as a stern and harsh teacher who raised everyone to be tough and work twice as hard to barely inch toward success. Victory Gardens Theater opens the hidden secrets and pain of a strained relationship between a father and son in Queen of the Night. Playwright travis tate gives us the healing journey of a father and son working on acceptance, forgiveness, and all of the ways to be a Black man.
I was truly thrilled to see the magnificent Andre Teamer as the father Stephen. I have seen Teamer’s performances since the early ’00s as a member of the MPAACT collective. I covered Tad in 5th City back in the day when Teamer played another Black father watching his son navigate life in a tough neighborhood. Teamer brings an introspective and healing father to Queen of the Night. His sons have made it to adulthood and gone through college, which is a major achievement. He has been divorced by their mother and estranged from his overachieving son Marshall. He is looking for a release of anger and grief as he takes his youngest son Ty camping before they head to the mother’s wedding. Ty is played with zest and vulnerability by Terry Guest. Ty is the younger son who is an artist who is also queer. He has an impish quality that portrays a wounded child still inside. He shows up at camp dressed more for glamping. His shiny clothes and floral du-rags are a hilarious contrast to Stephen’s macho plaid shirts and sweat-wicking attire.
It is refreshing to see a story that shows a Black father’s acceptance of a gay son. That was something seen with White actors on soap operas and “a very special” movie of the week—viewer discretion advised. The stereotypical portrayals of Black men have been tortured and angry at trying to get ahead in the White man’s world. There was a machismo that was being recovered from being on the lowest rung of society. There was rare acceptance—if any—of a gay son or daughter. They were confirmed bachelors and maiden aunts who lived with roommates, not lovers. Queen of the Night has Black characters who have gone to therapy and worked through their emotions rather than stifling them. Tragedy and upheaval have a way of bringing emotions to the surface. Teamer and Guest play against each other in a zen-like setting that the father revels in and finds that his son does as well, from a different perspective.
Ty and Stephen work through self-acceptance and worthiness in a wary dance. Ty says outrageous things trying to antagonize Stephen. travis tate’s dialogue is deftly written with funny wordplay. I think that everyone should hear the line, “who is f#ck and why does he have a sake?” coming out of Terry Guest’s mouth. There are many layers to an individual and Guest brings them to his queer character; he is at turns whimsical and then angry. It was deeply touching to see Stephen lovingly telling his son to breathe and help him through a panic attack. Teamer shows us the character’s heart and a need to connect. Father and son do connect while the sounds of nature buzz around them. They scare away the local bear in a funny bit of skillet banging and bear spray. It makes nature articles telling us what to do if a bear is near your camp feel less fear-inducing.
Director Ken-Matt Martin keeps the action at a contemplative pace. There are no overwrought revelations and confessions in the woods. Martin directs this production to have emotional weight that has beauty in its subtlety. Sydney Lynne’s scenic design coupled with Sim Carpenter’s lighting is a surreal and stylized combination. The scene with both men donning headlights and looking for owls veers pleasantly into some psychedelic memories.
Queen of the Night is a realistic look into a family’s life as a unit broken apart. I found myself longing for that kind of closure with an absent father, which never would have happened in the times I was raised. However, I will not be venturing into the woods to get it. Motel 6 and below is too much roughing it for me. Stephen and Ty did a beautiful job of helping me to imagine that elusive closure. liked it very much and recommend that you see it.
Queen of the Night runs through March 13 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are $29-$62. For tickets and more information, please visit www.victorygardens.org
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