Zoom theater – that is to say, theatrical productions staged over Zoom, with characters often stranded in their boxes on the computer screen – has been very much “a mixed bag,” in the words of Sravya Tadepalli.
So that made the Zoom performance of the play “Queen” that Tadepalli saw during the pandemic even more impressive. Tadepalli’s sister Soumya was interning at Syracuse Stage, a professional company in New York, which produced the play in March 2021.
Sravya Tadepalli also was curious about the play because it’s by Madhuri Shekar, a well-known Indian-American playwright and screenwriter. Tadepalli herself is an Indian-American writer, with produced plays to her credit.
The online production blew her away. “It was really good, it was really funny, it was probably one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” she said.
So when Jimbo Ivy, the supervisor of the Majestic Theatre, contacted Tadepalli to ask if she would helm the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company production in May – Asian American Paciific Islander Heritage Month – she knew just what play she wanted to stage.
Tadepalli’s production of “Queen” takes the stage in the Community Room at the Majestic for two performances this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22, at 7:30 p.m. A talkback session is scheduled after the Sunday performance. (See the related story at the bottom for ticket information and other details.)
Ivy knew Tadepalli, a Corvallis native, after she reached out to him as part of her work to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at Corvallis School District Theaters. (That work led to the creation of the Theater Diversity Advisory Council at CSD Theaters. In addition, Tadepalli was in the cast of a Readers’ Theater production, “A Shayna Maidel,” in 2014 – before Ivy took over at the Majestic.) As the Majestic worked to increase representation from historically marginalized communities, it made sense for Ivy to reconnect with Tadepalli.
Tadepalli said Ivy emailed her, asking if she was interested in directing a Readers’ Theatre show. She was. He asked what month she wanted to stage her show, and “I told him I could do Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.”
And she knew “Queen” would be the show.
“Queen,” which premiered in 2017 at Chicago’s Winter Gardens, is about a pair of female PhD candidates – a mathematician and a biologist who are working together to pinpoint the cause of colony collapse disorder, the ecological crisis in which bees have been disappearing. They’re on the verge of publishing their results when the mathematician, Sanam Shaw (Shaznin Daruwalla), realizes that the numbers don’t support their conclusion.
The resulting conflicts test the friendship between Sanam and her colleague, Ariel (Molly Rosbach) – and raise ethical and philosophical questions.
It sounds like heavy stuff – and “Queen” does deal with important, urgent topics – but Tadepalli said the play is surprisingly light on its feet.
“It’s really funny,” Tadepalli said. “It’s a light play, I would say, actually,” thanks to its moments of humor and believable relationships between the characters.
Shekar’s play does raise some issues specific to Indian-Americans, Tadepalli said, “but it’s also just a generally good play that talks about issues that everyone can relate to and deal with, especially in a university town.”
The cast features five actors, and three of them hail from India, she said. Everyone in the cast works at Oregon State University in some capacity, so they understand the academic background of “Queen.”
This is the first show Tadepalli has directed, but she’s written plays (the most recent of which, “Swapna,” was produced by EnActe Arts, an Asian theater company in California). She’s also acted in productions at the University of Oregon and at Corvallis high schools.
Directing was a different experience, she said: “Being on that side, what’s been a challenge for me is figuring out, OK, how do you make a scene or characters look the way that you want it to? Or you find something that’s working – how do you explain why it’s working? Or how do you explain why something’s not working? For me, that part was the biggest surprise or challenge.”
But she’s pleased with how her cast has navigated rehearsals with energy, humor and the light touch “Queen” demands.
This fall, Tadepalli will start graduate studies at Harvard in public policy after graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in political science and journalism. But she has no plans to abandon the stage: “Theater will always be part of my life.”
If You Go
What: “Queen,” a production of the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company.
When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22.
Where: The Majestic Theatre Community Room, 115 SW Second St. in Corvallis.
How much: Tickets are $11, $16 and $21. Click here for ticket information.
Of note: The Sunday performance will include a talkback session after the show featuring cast members and guests. Tadepalli plans to ask questions about the experiences that the Indian-Americans in the cast have faced and also about the challenges facing graduate students.