“Queen of the Night” Sings Out in the Dark Woods
There are many things to be afraid of in the woods even if you love the outdoors as Ty, irresistibly played by Leland Fowler, proclaims in his opening monologue. They have to store their food in the trees to protect it from the bears, “Not the good kind,” he campily pouts. He put on his waders, which makes his outfit look ridiculous, so he doesn’t get leeches like that frightening time when he was a kid. Maybe most frightening of all, Ty is alone with his recently laid off father, Stephen (warm and strong Danny Johnson) and they are taking full measure of each other and how they feel about themselves and each other. Scary stuff. Ty may love the outdoors and camping, “What could possibly go wrong here?” but he’s not very adept at it.
Father and son have retreated to this remote camping site, whose playing area (fantastically designed by Christopher & Justin Swader with a dozen startling lighting effects by Yuki Nakase Link) is perched in the Southern Vermont Arts Center grounds in Manchester. “Queen of the Night” is a World Premiere by travis tate and is the second and last play in Dorset Theatre Festival’s Play Outside in Vermont season. DTF, playwright tate, and Director Raz Golden have taken on the challenge of their outdoor setting, this fractured country and searching their hearts to create a first-class work of art.
Ty and Stephen are spending a couple of nights out in the woods before Ty’s mother, Stephen’s ex-wife gets married in Houston. They unpack their gear, set up their tents, build a fire, cook vegetarian weenies…this is not quite the glamping that Ty was hoping for. Ty shows up looking fabulous in short shorts and a sheer black floral top (fun costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar) and socks and sandals. Fowler is compulsively watchable whether drunkenly singing Celine for all he’s worth or struggling to zip up his tent from inside, he is delightful. For all the laughs, and he gets every one written and then some, he can also grab us by the heart and not let go. It is a lovely performance. Is the title meant to be conferred on him? Besides all the Celine, Whitney is also name checked and “Queen of the Night” was a big hit for her. Queen of the Night is also a flower indigenous to the area which blooms at night and surely has to be the inspiration for Link’s most outrageous and thrilling lighting effects.
Danny Johnson with his rumbling voice is trustworthy, reliable and wants to give his son what he needs to succeed. When we discover that this rock-solid man who has hit hard times is receiving therapy, it makes perfect sense because he doesn’t make a wrong move when needed. He is a great companion and a rock to lean on. Director Golden handles the dynamics of their relationship and all the thrilling and scary possibilities of staging an intimate family drama in the middle of the woods expertly. I can’t remember a more convincing relationship story that fits so well in its epic outdoor setting.
We understand that Ty would take these camping trips with his father over his corporate lawyer brother Marshall, both when he was young and today just to feel this closeness with his father…even if he’s afraid about what his father feels about him as a young, gay, Black man. Worse than that is how he feels about himself. The obstacles to Ty feeling loved, necessary and valued are imagined by what he perceives in society. Considering what he takes as the two strikes against him, being Black and gay, he pours his soul and tears out to us about what he sees when he walks out the door. “I imagine my own death.”
Father and son arrive at a wooded retreat and find a way to support, nourish and protect each other. If Stephen’s individual concerns are not giving as much space as Ty’s, we might chalk that up to his still, accepting nature but I was curious to learn more about this man. The story is elemental, necessary and we know in these times it is life and death stakes. The playwright travis tate has done an urgent, beautiful, passionate job of making a queer voice heard so clearly.