Chicago Theatre Review
A Monarch Ahead of Her Time
Christina, the Girl King – Cor Theatre
Based upon a chapter of little-known European history, Christina (or Kristina), who ruled as Queen of Sweden from 1632-1654, was a woman far ahead of her time. She inherited the title as a very young child after her father, King Gustav II, was killed in battle. However, Christina didn’t actually begin to rule as the country’s monarch until she was 18 years old. More like a new millennium teenager than a 17th century monarch, Christina was an intelligent, androgynous young woman who was really stood out. To everyone’s distress, she refused to conform to what was expected of her. Educated to become a ruler from a very young age, Christina was defiant and independent. She challenged the religious, political and philosophical norms of her time. She also rejected every standard simply for being a 17th century woman. The young queen refused to take a husband or sire an heir; she even dressed as a man and, quite likely, enjoyed a lesbian sexual life.
Playwright Michel Marc Bouchard has taken some artistic liberties in telling his story of the young Swedish monarch. Fictionalizing history a bit, Bouchard crafts a two-act play that concisely paints a melodramatic portrait of this historical figure. Rejecting the advice of her own counselors, Christina invites the French philosopher Descartes to the Swedish court. There she begins following the teachings of her new mentor. Turning her back on her Protestant upbringing, the young queen accepts the Pope’s invitation to convert to Catholicism. Refusing the persistent romantic advances and marriage proposals of eligible noblemen, Christina chooses instead to seek love and sexual gratification with her lady-in-waiting, Countess Ebba Sparre. Ebba is engaged to be married but she finds Christina’s affection and gifts very hard to pass up. The play follows the path by which the rebel queen systematically discarded all her previous teachings and ideas to find a new truth. Based upon her new intellectual curiosities and carnal desires, Christina created her own system of beliefs.
Director Tosha Fowler, founding member and Artistic Director of this company, has staged a mostly admirable production of Bouchard’s play. The technical artistry, while somewhat Spartan, is effective in this intimate space. Alarie Hammock’s costume design, which can best be described as Gothic Vogue, is simple, yet stylish and uniquely elegant. Elyse Balough’s scenic and property designs are equally modest, yet bespeak a certain contemporary Middle Ages inspiration. Some of Ms. Fowler’s staging and dramatic guidance is very good, yet often the more intimate incidents occur with little concern for sight lines. When a scene is played on the floor, especially in the stage right corner, only the front row can see it. Also, often the director has encouraged her actors to shout their lines, often losing the words and meaning. Histrionics do not equal drama; so much more could’ve been achieved by playing the opposite. Quiet, menacing dialogue is a bolder choice than having actors raise their voices for every other speech.
The cast is good, particularly the women. Toya Turner gives a swaggering, commanding performance as Christina. As directed, Ms. Turner sometimes becomes a bit overpowering, especially in this tiny theatre; however, in her smaller, quieter moments we’re able to discover the real woman that lives inside Christina. Laura Resinger is exquisite as Ebba Sparre. A beautiful young actress, fresh out of DePaul University, this talented beauty delivers her lines with honesty and clarity. She should find a career of lucrative roles just waiting for her in the wings. Bridget Schreiber is very good as Erika, another lady-in-waiting, whose pain at witnessing her queen’s affections being wasted on another is always evident.
Meg Elliott, as Maria Elenora, makes a few unusual choices in her portrayal of Christina’s controlling mother. Sometimes overplayed, this queen mother is certainly the crown diva of the story. Danny Taylor nicely underplays his role, making Descartes often the most sincere, realistic human being of this production. Will Von Vogt has some effective, genuinely honest moments, when he has Johan under control. But often, unfortunately, the young actor labors under the theory that if being big and broad is good, playing over-the-top must be better. In those scenes the audience simply tunes him out.
The strength of this production is in learning about and experiencing this revolutionary character, a woman far ahead her time. It’s always fun to learn something new about world history and this play does just that. For many reasons, this is a play for adults. There’s an abundance of heady information for the theatergoer to take in. There’s also a fair amount of violence, bloodshed, sex and full nudity, both male and female. While this may help sell this production, patrons should be warned that the seating on audience left offers some restricted sight lines. Also, the further from the stage theatergoers are seated, ironically, the better the dialogue will be understood. Aesthetic distance is the key.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 17-April 9 by Cor Theatre, in residence with Jackalope Theatre’s Pioneer Series at the Frontier, 1106 W. Thorndale, Chciago.
Tickets are available by calling 866-811-4111 or by going to www.CorTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.