Kicking off the St Andrews New Drama Fesitval (SAND), Queen of Seventh Avenue by seasoned Mermaids veteran Katie Brennan is a tale of sisters, bootleggers, and mob bosses, set in Prohibition-era New York City. Transforming Venue 1 into anything other than an abyss where acoustics go to die is a feat in and of itself, so the ability of Brennan and her production team to convincingly portray an intimate and underground nightclub should be thoroughly commended. In addition to the cabaret-style of set, the convincing costuming, hair, and make-up choices made strong first impressions and helped create an authentic Jazz Age feel.
The play focuses its attention on two sisters, who on the surface couldn’t be more different, and their changing relationships with one another and their growing number of associates and enemies. Cate Kelly and Sarah Pollock, as Rosie and Evie respectively, delivered strong and convincing performances as estranged sisters and proved that sororal love can overcome all manner of obstacles and rocky pasts. Pollock’s transformation from the demure widow and dedicated church-member Eveline Davies to the revitalized, self-confident and business-savvy Evie McManus was particularly interesting to watch. Jared Liebmiller and Baxter Gaston both deliver strong performances as Gus and Jonathon, two former soldiers who followed very different paths after the war. Gus, the son of a West Virginian coal miner who became an evangelical preacher, finds his way to Rosie and Jonathon’s New York speak-easy after becoming disillusioned with his increasingly radical church. Liebmiller’s heartfelt monologues throughout the play were alternately inspirational, driving, and emotionally moving. Wendell Krebs also delivered a spectacularly on-point performance as the gangster Rothstein, complete with a thick fur coat and an even thicker New Yorker accent.
The storyline was on the whole captivating and engaging, but suffered at times from a large number of sub-plots. These mini story arches, while interesting and well-written, distracted too much from the driving plot of the show. Had the show been longer and given the storylines more time to develop, I have no doubt the final product would be spectacular. Perhaps, hopefully, Brennan will consider adapting her play into a novel in order to properly expand these sub-plots; I would certainly be the first in the queue to purchase a copy. In any regard, the final theatrical result was one of great comedy, entertainment, and wit.
In Brennan’s director’s note, she admits she hoped to put on a show about sisters that was reminiscent of her previous high-energy production, Enron: flashy, fun, entertaining, and exuberant. If the whole of the play weren’t enough to accomplish this (which she needn’t worry about, because it was), then certainly the ending cast-wide dance number was sufficient. Under the choreography of Joe Cunningham, the cast of Queen of Seventh Avenue performed a high-spirited Charleston with plenty of modern sass. The dance number was incredibly captivating, as audience members clapped in time with the music and were eventually hauled on stage to dance the night away with the cast and crew. Brennan, her talented cast, and the remarkably dedicated production team surely succeeded in resurrecting the jazzy dancehall days of the American Prohibition.
All images courtesy of PINUP.