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A CurtainUp DC Review
Queen of Basel

"I feel like I'm gonna explode." — Julie.
Andy Lucien and Christy Escobar (Photo credit: C. Stanley)
One liners do not a play make. The world premiere of Queen of Basel by Hilary Bettis throws them around like someone who is cleaning out a closet. Some of the lines are good but substance or plot is in short supply in this 100-minute, no intermission play. For anyone familiar with August Strindberg's Miss Julie (now in the public domain) the ending is pre-ordained. The play will not end well.

Several playwrights since Strindberg's demise have taken a crack at updating his study of a tragic, self-destructive woman and the people who surround her. Bettis has moved the time and place to now with Art Basel Miami as a backdrop. Julie, (Christy Escobar) the daughter of a filthy rich "condo King," is engaged to David, the son of another "condo King." The fathers are intensely engaged in making a deal. Where have we heard about such people before?

The play begins in a ritzy hotel's cluttered and very unglamorous kitchen. One of the servers at some louche Art Basel Miami event, Christine, (Dalia Davi) tarted up in a slate blue wig, heavy eye makeup and a silver lame jacket that barely covers her torso, has accidently poured gin over Julie's dress. As both women try to dry the dress (a stunning green velvet, congratulations to costume designer Ivania Stack), small talk ensues. We learn that Julie is a recovering alcoholic, has an MBA from Harvard, wants to start an NGO focusing on women's health issues and Christine is a refugee from Venezuela— some of the Spanish dialogue is translated into English — struggling to bring her daughter to the US.

Julie wants to be nice; Christine wants to finish her shift and go home, but she's polite. Sparks begin to fly when Christine's fiancé John, (Andy Lucien in a very convincing performance) an uber driver shows up. What follows are many plot twists leaving the audience with the knowledge that all three characters are seriously compromised. They've all done something they are not proud of.

Bettis has won many awards: Best Writing and Best Drama, a Fellowship at Julliard, and participated in workshops and residencies at more than twelve serious drama-related institutions. Obviously she has caught the attention of many who wish to help her. But given her style it is no surprise that she has also written many tv shows, the kind where a group of bright people sit around and sling zappy one-liners at one another, some of which get into a script. That's the feeling one gets at the end of Queen of Basel which is in stark contrast to the absolutely terrific other world premiere now playing at Studio Theatre: Admissions by Josh Harmon. That's a very well- plotted and written play.

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Queen of Basel by Hilary Bettis
Directed by José Zayas
Cast: Christy Escobar (Julie), Dalia Davi (Christine) and Andy Lucien (John)
Scenic Designer, Debra Booth. Costume Designer, Ivania Stack. Lighting Designer, Andrew Cissna.
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission.
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC; March 6 to April 7, 2019. Reviewed by Susan Davidson at March 10, 2019 performance.

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