Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Queen of the Mist. The book, music, and lyrics were by Michael John LaChiusa and it was directed by Elizabeth Margolius. Music direction was by Charlotte Rivard-Hoster and orchestrations by Michael Starobin. It was about a woman named Anna Edson Taylor (Barbara E. Robertson) who couldn't pay her bills, so she was being run out of every town she lived in. She decided she wanted to make a name for herself, and what better way than do that than to hop on the trend of going over Niagara Falls! So she finds herself a manager, Frank Russell (Max J. Cervantes) who is skeptical at first but is won over by her charms. The show follows her master plan for surviving the falls and the aftermath of it, which is not what she expects. It is about self-motivation, how our choices effect others, and manipulation. This was a thought-provoking show. It made me think about what counts as a feminist story, how our rules for likable protagonists might be related to gender, and if relying on others is weak or necessary.
The character of Anna Edson Taylor was difficult to get behind for me. I understand a protagonist does not necessarily have to be a good person, but I felt like in this case Anna seemed to be trying to pass as a strong independent woman, but she kept having to restate to people that she was at one point married and they should call her Mrs. It seemed like she couldn't go on living without the approval of a man. Her choice to go over the falls in a barrel is in one way feminist because she is scientifically designing a barrel that can go over the falls without issue and proving a woman can do that. But she is also not being feminist because she is being coached through it by a man and she is doing it all for attention. She is also lowering her age so she can seem more appealing to the press. She is accepting how society is and catering to the ideals that society has made for women, but she still wants to be seen as feminist. She doesn't feel like she needs the help of other people, but she still takes it and doesn't acknowledge that she is taking it. Unlikable protagonists show that to be important you don't have to be a good person. It also helps you develop empathy for multiple types of people.
One of the most interesting scenes of the play to me was when we are introduced to the replacement Anna Edson Taylor (Neala Barron), who is touring with Anna's former manager Frank Russell with the original barrel. In the play Anna confronts her manager and meets this replacement. The replacement is more successful because she is willing to describe what it was like to be in the falls, whereas Anna wants to keep that to herself. It tells us that it is hard to keep any kind of private life when you are famous, and if you do, people don't take interest in you. The replacement isn't actually telling her own story, which shows us that sometimes the media and audience would rather have interesting lies than no information on a subject. I loved Neala Barron's performances in this show. Her voice is amazing and worked so well with both of her characters, the replacement Anna, and Anna's sister Jane. Jane and Anna's relationship was central to the show because Anna says that she loves Jane, but she also manipulates her into giving her help even though she says she doesn't need it and then isn't grateful for it. She also doesn't understand why her sister would be angry that Anna risked her life for a stunt. They had been very close when they were kids, so it seems like a matter of her sister being scared for her, not trying to tear her away from her dreams.
People who would like this show are people who like barrel metaphors, complex protagonists, and sisterly love. I think this is a show with some really great performances that stretches your ideas of what a female protagonist can be.
Photos: Michael Brosilow