Charles Mee’s Queens Boulevard


Though Charles Mee has titled his new jukebox musical Queens Boulevard, a more fitting moniker might be Utopia Parkway. Inspired by a classical Kathakali drama, Queens Boulevard presents an idealized version of the outer borough, in which Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Irish, and others live in multihued harmony. Mee’s melting pot produces delightful aromas that envelop the simple plot—a groom (Amir Arison) searches for a rare flower for his bride (Michi Barall). Here, a wedding party dances to Shoukichi Kina and Abba; a paan seller dabbles in palmistry, Scientology, and shiatsu; and fertility doctors advise hormones, pulverized lizard, and the love poems of Ono no Komachi.

As in his other works, Mee studs the script with monologues borrowed from different sources (James Joyce, Valerie Solanas, Internet blogs). These intrusions sometimes create a useful tension between what the characters say and what they actually mean, but too often they merely serve as distractions from the play’s plot and relationships. They also allow Mee to indulge his rather peculiar and essentialist ideas about gender, without having to write them himself—this play, like many of Mee’s others, contains long disquisitions concerning how men and women differ. But director Davis McCallum and choreographer Peter Pucci largely smooth over the irritations of Mee’s script. On Mimi Lien’s playful set, Pucci has the actors hop and twirl; toward the end, he stages a charming bathhouse scene. McCallum encourages a sweetness and exuberance in his cast— the former best exemplified by the adorable Barall, the latter by Debargo Sanyal in a variety of roles. McCallum directs quickly and brightly, rushing through some of the odder monologues, focusing on the music, the movement, the colorful swirl of faces and dress that make Queens, and Queens Boulevard, a pleasure.