New York — The Queen and the Rebels. Starring Colleen Dewhurst. Directed by Waris Hussein. Tragic drama by Ugo Betti. Translated by Henry Reed.
While continuing to regale audiences with a romping revival of Noel Coward's ''Present Laughter,'' the Circle in the Square has turned to darker and more turbulent matters with Ugo Betti's ''The Queen and the Rebels.'' The tragic drama concerning fatally mistaken identity, moral and spiritual conflicts, and the brutalities of revolutionary Realpolitikm comes to the Plymouth Theater in an impressive production starring Colleen Dewhurst.
Although written in 1949, the drama has not lost its relevance for an age still grappling with the fruits of revolution and authoritarian oppression.
Miss Dewhurst plays Argia, a prostitute who inadvertently finds herself mistaken for the Queen of an unnamed, revolution-torn country. Argia arrives at a hillside village near the border as part of a group of travelers desperately trying to flee their terrorized homeland. The action of the play takes place in the cavernous hall of the partly damaged public building where the detainees are being held.
Argia is specifically seeking the aid of Raim (Scott Hylands), her most recent ''lover,'' now flaunting his authority as a newly appointed petty official. Discovering that a peasant woman in the refugee party is actually the long-missing Queen (Betty Miller), Argia shares the knowledge with the opportunistic Raim. They concoct a scheme to exploit the terrified monarch and blackmail her supporters. But when the time comes to let the Queen escape to certain death, Argia recoils from the plan and lets her get away.
Ugo Betti's careful plotting, however, is merely the framework for the series of verbal confrontations and exchanges that go to the heart of ''The Queen and the Rebels.'' The blustering Raim is exposed early on for the despicable and duplicitous turncoat that he is. The playwright's chief protagonists are Argia and the astute Commissar (Peter Michael Goetz), who finds a quick-witted and formidable adversary in the woman whose flippant cynicism acquires the stature of moral outrage as their debates reach a mounting intensity.
While the handsome and compelling Miss Dewhurst never loses Argia's down-to-earth attitude of contempt for all usurping authority, she becomes imbued with a kind of regal magnificence as the woman faces the inevitable consequence of the identity that has been thrust upon her. At the height of their final encounter, she drives the prosecuting Commissar to a confession of hatred and nihilism through which Betti delivered his own indictment of communism's dehumanizing effect. Argia's momentary breakdown is deep and personal, and Miss Dewhurst makes it emotionally tearing.
The star and Mr. Goetz prove adversaries of worthy mettle as they deliver the prolonged, intellectually stimulating speeches that make up the principal argument of ''The Queen and the Rebels.'' Miss Miller extends the emotional palette of the performance with a portrayal of the Queen as a distraught and terrified woman not quite bereft of inner dignity.