Ugo Betti would have been a likely target for the Italian Red Brigades if he were alive today. For much of his life he was a magistrate of the High Court in Rome. But even worse, in the eyes of Red Brigadiers and their ilk, he wrote plays like "The Queen and the Rebels," which is being presented by Source at the Washington Project for the Arts.
The rebels don't have much of a case in "The Queen and the Rebels." In this production, particularly, they seem to be a pack of crazies - colorful crazies, to be sure, but devoid of almost any kind of reasonable motivation.
The queen is no paragon either. After years of being on the run she is a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] creature, half-alive. Carefully disguised as a peasant, she is swept into a rebel camp with a group of other travelers. A prostitute in the crowd recognizes the queen and helps her escape. But then the prostitute herself is mistaken for the queen and - with heart of gold intact - she finally declares that she really is the queen. As she goes to her punishment she assumes a dignity the real queen never had.
It's the familiar story of one individual with considerable moral fiber defying the mob. It's something Arthur Miller might have written in 1951, and that's when Betti wrote it.
The Source production got off to a literally halting start on opening night. Someone gave the offstage rabble the wrong cue. They were roused prematurely and they had to do it over again. The first scene was full of rough spots, but the actors gained assurance as the evening went on.
As the prostitute, Michaeleen O'Neil effectively transformed her character from a carefree lowlifer into a monarch with the moral weight of the world on her shoulders. She might want to talk shop with "The Good Woman of Setzuan" over at ASTA.
Cotter Smith plays her icy interrogator - the only rebel with a glimmer of sanity. Bim Oakley adds a little comedy as her ex-lover - now an opportunistic rebel sidekick. And Frieda Enoch is the frightened, fragile queen.
Director Bart Whiteman has assembled a set that really looks like a "safe house" for terrorists. He generally keeps his 26-member cast coordinated, though attention should be paid to lines that are almost drowned out by offstage sounds. "The Queen and the Rebels" is not a great play, but it isn't a waste of time either. It plays through Sunday and next Thursday through Sunday, too. More power to Source.