By Randi Cross, Arts Editor
May 1, 2023
The two-week run of “Deirdre the Queer Queen,” directed by Theater Arts Department Chair Michael Torres, came to a close on April 14 at Laney College’s Odell Johnson Performing Arts Center. In this comedy written by Ai Adia, goddesses from Irish, Greek, and Japanese mythology recognize their shared struggles with misogyny and abuse, and band together to fight for change.
The play pulls its characters from a variety of mythological figures from different cultures around the world. In his introduction addressed to the audience, Torres reflected on the history of misogyny in these stories.
“Now that we are evolving, what do we do with ancient literature?” Torres said.
The protagonist, “Deirdre of Sorrows,” is a tragic heroine in Irish mythology. In the myth, the beautiful Dierdre faces abuse at the hands of Conchobar, the king. She ultimately kills herself to escape her fate.
“Deirdre the Queer Queen” begins where Deirdre’s story ends. Deirdre arrives in the Underworld, adorned in a simple green wrap dress, her long red hair hung down her back with the front pulled away from her face by two braids. She meets other goddesses who also experienced misogyny and domestic abuse while on earth, based on figures from Japanese, Irish and Greek mythology.
In the Underworld, the goddesses face abuse from Conchobar, who in this play doubles as Hades, god of the dead and king of the Underworld. The mythical figures are at odds with each other until Deirdre brings them together to realize their own worth and stand up to Conchobar.
Despite warnings for references and depictions of attempted suicide, incest, sexual violence, child abuse, and murder, the play balances its dark themes with humor.
Luma Jaguar’s performance as the strong-willed Deirdre kept the audience engaged and rooting for the power of women in the afterlife. Jaguar also delivered a powerful monologue about having the courage to stand up for herself as a queer woman.
Tien Duong gave a stand-out performance as Iza, the bitter, angry alcoholic, based on the Japanese goddess of creation and death. Iza died during childbirth, and refused to return to earth to reunite with her husband because her body had turned into a rotting pile of flesh. Vanity kept her in the Underworld, spending all of her time drinking sake.
The opening music was performed by Chanese Phason as a “singing siren,” accompanied by drummer Ralph Peet from the Laney Dance Department.
The set was designed by Amy Benjamin and Brendan Yunghert and built by Laney College Wood Tech. Rocks were carved out of foam and painted for the background. A full bar was built by Wood Tech. Torres explained jokingly that the bar would be staying permanently on stage because it was too heavy to move.
A projector behind the stage provided visuals throughout the scenes to give the effect of flames in the Underworld, and provide flashbacks of Deirdre’s time among the living. Lebharcham, Deirdre’s nurse, also appeared on the projector to give advice to Deirdre during a time of need when the decision of what she should do about the feuding goddesses was unclear.
The play concluded with a monologue from Dierdre that breaks the fourth wall to bring attention to the importance of telling our own stories with our own voices until balance is restored to the world.
“We gotta wake up girls and tell our own stories. Men need us to be who they are. Deirdre the Queer Queen out!”
More information about the full cast and creative team behind “Dierdre the Queer Queen” can be found here.