QUEEN OF BASELBy Hilary Bettis
Kitchen Dog Theater
Julie – Kat Lozano
Christine – Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso
John – Lee George
Director – Christopher Carlos
Stage Manager – Ruth Stephenson
Set Designer – David Walsh
Lighting Designer – Linda Blase
Costume Designer – Korey Kent
Sound Designer – John M. Flores
Props Designer – Cindy Ernst Godinez
Technical Director – Dane Tuttle
Assistant Stage Manager – Katie Brown
Master Electrician – Allie Butemeyer
NNPN Producer in Residence – Haley Nelson
Graphic Design – Sullivan Perkins
Reviewed by Travis McCallum, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Enter the Basel Hotel in Miami Florida. A great big party lights up the night and we, the audience, sit idly in its kitchen. Through the swinging industrial double doors we see rainbow shadows of the spotlight and the heavy reverb of bass electronica surging around the corner on a hidden dance floor.
Joining us in the kitchen is the Julie (Kat Lozano), accompanied by Christine (Stephanie Cleghorn). There was a spill and the Queen of the Basel Hotel sobs, her cocktail waitress frantically attempting to appease the error of her ways.
Thrown right into a situation, I am presented with a single question: what happened?
The “Queen of Basel” is a story about how three people are able to take action on the things that they believe in by being challenged in their current belief system.
Our third person is John (Lee George), a man called upon by Christine to escort Julie back to her home. This trio embark in a vicious fight to win at their individual goals. The next hour and a half explore topics on gender and racial discrimination, social power and justice, and international terror to name a few.
It is enjoyable to watch and I think KD puts on a professional show in a very intimate space.
Our protagonist Julie wears a beautiful velvet blue dress with heels. Her diamond necklace and shiny crystal wallet immediately tells me this is a woman with money and prestige. If it wasn’t for her smeared make-up and tears of humiliation, I would think Julie as a woman of class.
Lozano portrays the queen as the center of attention in this play, pushing buttons and getting the things she wants. There is a range of emotions to play with: seduction of John and a trip to the beach; drunken stupor to drown the sorrows of yesteryear; hopeful diligence to carry on her mother’s last wishes; Julie is carrying the gamut of dramatic baggage.
There were many memorable moments that come to mind. I like watching the relief and giddiness when she removes her shoes and remarks at the simple of pleasure of being barefoot. Or when she shrieks after spotting dead animals in nauseating fear.
Perhaps my favorite moment for Julie is her ending sequence. Having the courage to do what she did and how Director Christopher Carlos decided to visually stage it really takes the icing off the cake to a spectacular ending.
I wish I could go into more specific details, but I don’t want to reveal the mystery you as the audience will want to discover.
One such discovery may look at how a Venezuelan cocktail waitress came to work at the Basel Hotel, famous for dressing its female employees in scantily clad outfits suited akin to a gentlemen’s club. Christine is not a very good English speaker, quickly evidenced by her accent.
I am amazed at the amount of Spanish actress Jasso learned for this part. She spoke with such eloquence and perfect conjugation-- hats off for being bilingual.
Her strongest moment was the breakdown describing a situation not too unlike Julie’s. Christine was quivering so badly I thought she would buckle over and die from heartache with each sentence. What I can appreciate about this artistic scene is its successive build-up.
Carlos is good at making sure all the actors start at 0 intensity and ramp up to 100 with varying levels in between.
If there was any stability in this show, it would have to be the cool guy John. Just an UBER driver trying to help a friend, poor John found himself getting much more than he bargained for. George was really funny to watch, and he definitely helped to lighten the mood in the craziness.
I liked seeing his internal struggle with a desire to be ‘a family man’. His mouth says one thing, but his body says another.
The dynamic between Julie and John proves his lack of commitment to any one cause, despite how much he says he is madly in love with Christine. In a weird-true-sort-of-way the burning fire in the pair explains why so many retaliations occur on both sides with low blows to deceased mom and prison-ridden pops.
I do have some gripes with movement and staging. Often actors would cross and adjust their positioning to add variation to the scene, but sometimes it felt forced. Presentational as if it were for the benefit of the audience. It would make more sense to give intentionality to movement, whether it be a reaction to another character.
Or even because a certain prop catches someone’s eye. A perfect example is on the search for wine and the discovery of cooking oil. Which I must applaud Prop Designer Cindy Ernst Godinez for coming up with so many toys the actors could work with.
A great example is the use of a corkscrew and actual liquid in the wine bottles. I am super impressed both John and Julie down a whole bottle every single night. Seeing props like the wine bottles and the chips being used to express emotions like anger is especially rewarding.
I have worked in kitchens as a server in the past and I think Set Designer David Walsh has too because the stage is a perfect replica of what you would see. From mop buckets to dry food storage, I think everything fit in place wonderfully.
Because this was a very static set, there wasn’t much variation in lighting. Though it served its purpose illuminating the room, I wish Lighting Designer Linda Blase could have found more opportunities to set ambience and mood throughout the show. The only thing that caught my eye were the party lights outside the kitchen.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. There’s a part in the show with a deafening silence where no one is on stage for a couple of minutes. Audience members have nothing to do but look at each other in uncomfortable confusion. In rushes Christine to discover John and Julie have disappeared. She throws a fit and then leaves.
We are then left waiting in an even longer silent treatment. I don’t know what Carlos was trying to achieve, but it didn’t work for me or anyone else in the audience.
Despite this shortcoming, I found Queen of Basel well worth my time. Live theatre is such an intimate experience no Netflix can replace. Julie, Christine and John shed raw emotion in a variety of flavors for me. By the end of the show I’m given a sliver of hope for each of them.
This show isn’t a cakewalk to watch. You’ll have to be an attentive listener because the dialogue moves fast and the story bounces around a lot on many extremes. But I think there are some good lessons to be learned for bettering ourselves and the world we live in.
Performed at The Trinity River Arts Center
2600 N. Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180 Dallas, TX 75207
November 21 – December 15
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