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"Queen" by Enacte Arts: the Bee's Knees!

This review was published in Indica News on Sept 27, 2018.

Enacte Arts , whose tagline is "South Asian Stories with Universal Appeal", presented the play “Queen” by Madhuri Shekar as part of the Bay Area South Asian film Festival 2018. Directed by Vinita Sud Belani, it was performed at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts on Saturday, September 22.

The playwright's note in the program describes how she wanted to depict women in science while tackling one of the most baffling and urgent ecological problems we face today, that of the effect of pesticides on our ecosystem, specifically, Colony Collapse Disorder in the bee population.

The outstanding script tells the story of two scientists Sanam Rao (Nandini Ravindran) and Ariel Spiegel (Stacy Fairley), their professor Philip Hayes (Michael Boehm), and Arvind Patel (Snehal Pachigar), a romantic interest to Sanam. There are two intertwined stories: first, that of the scientists Sanam, Ariel and Philip whose research seeks to explain why bees are dying off at an alarming rate. The scientists are collecting data to determine whether neonicotinoids in pesticides are causing this.

The second story is of a first date and subsequent interactions between Sanam and Arvind, who meet because their grandfathers knew each other, and their families wanted them to meet. Arvind works on Wall Street and brings to the play a pragmatic perspective quite different from that of the scientists so keen to save the world. He gives Sanam much to think about. His pronouncements, so removed from the ivory tower, bring some levity to the scenes and he is endearing in unexpected ways.

The set consisted of a combination of on-stage props and video projections. The projected backdrop was very effective in widening the perspective of the scenes, which included an outdoor party for the researchers, a university office where data was analyzed, a restaurant where Sanam met Arvind, a conference where results of important studies were to be presented, and then back to the outdoors, where Ariel and Sanam worked with bees.

Progress in science is contingent upon the objective, dispassionate analysis of data, with the recognition and elimination of inevitable biases. Working on a project for many years, however, can lead to emotional attachments to one’s hypotheses, and the specter of bias looms. The scientists have their pet theory about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, and once the data are analyzed, the results challenge all their assumptions. The play tackles many serious topics: What is scientific integrity? What is personal integrity? How are our ethics affected by the lures of publicity, and how do we stand in the face of mounting professional pressures? What is important to each of us? What is compromise, in science, and in life? What would we give up for what we believe to be the truth?

The intelligent, thoughtful script, directorial choices and engaging cast kept the audience riveted through the duration of the two-hour play.

“Queen” will be performed on Sept 28th and 29th at the De Anza Visual and Performing Arts Center in Cupertino.

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