"Mummy" Issues: The Penny Seats Theatre Company's world premiere of "The Mummy Queen" wraps Ann Arbor in a spooky London tale
There is a long list of plays and musicals that deal with monsters such as vampires, witches, and Frankenstein. Mummies, however, are scarcely represented on stage.
Michael Alan Herman's The Mummy Queen fills that void, and its world premiere run this month by The Penny Seats Theatre Company is quick, witty, and filled with great storytelling. It's perfect for the Halloween season, but it also tackles the ever-present issue of gender roles, and what (or who) men feel entitled to.
Set in Notting Hill, London, during the 1890s, the show opens with a lengthy monologue from Abel Trelawny—played by the captivating Matthew Cameron—an Egyptologist who has gone on a mission to find the long-lost resting place of Queen Tara. Trelawny tells the epic tale of how he found the queen, brought her back to London, and now has her coffin sitting in his study. While the speech is long, and all told from a past-tense narrative, Cameron does a wonderful job of keeping the audience engaged and wanting more. At the end of his diatribe, he goes to open the coffin and is attacked by an invisible force. He runs off stage, and now we are caught up to speed and in the present day.
We learn that Trelawny attacked himself, sawing at his wrist, and is in a medically induced stupor. An investigation ensues, and this is where we get to meet the rest of the cast. There is Margaret Trelawny, his daughter, whose only concern is the well-being of her father and how to set things right. Allison Megroet plays Margaret with determination, tenderness, and a heightened level of acting that reminds us how dire the situation is. We also meet Mrs. Grant (Julia Garlotte), who runs the waitstaff of the estate. Mrs. Grant keeps us grounded in realism, and her practicality helps the play not be too fantastical.
Bringing in lots of witty humor, Brittany Batell is a knockout as Nurse Kennedy. Determined to diagnose what has happened to Mr. Trelawny, Nurse Kennedy is challenged at every turn because she is a woman, always being asked if there is a male doctor that can be consulted instead. Batell puts on a strong performance, standing defiant, and never backing down from the sexist Sergeant Daw, who constantly questions her abilities. Daw is quite the misogynist and extremely easy to hate, which is a testament to Tim Pollack’s performance as the sergeant. Having Daw speak in a cockney accent is a nice touch, considering it is the British dialect most commonly used in theater to show poor education.
Finally, there is attorney Malcolm Ross, played by Jeffrey Miller, and he slowly becomes the women's only real ally as the show goes on. At first, he's skeptical about everything that's happening—all the while showing his romantic interest in Margaret—but ultimately, is the only one who truly hears what the women are saying. As the story goes on, and Margaret begins to suspect that her father’s aliment is due to him being possessed by the spirit of Queen Tara, Ross eventually stands with her and asks what can be done. He does not see the women as crazy or incompetent but believes in their abilities and opinions. It’s a charming performance by Miller.
The real moral debate of the show happens in the final scenes. While performing a seance, Margaret learns that Queen Tara is haunting the estate because she has been taken from her resting place and feels disrespected by Mr. Trelawny for stating he plans to sell her remains to the highest bidder. Margaret promises to return her to her crypt, and Queen Tara’s spirit returns to her mummified body. As he comes out of the trance, Mr. Trelawny talks about all the riches he will receive for the mummy’s various body parts, and he fights Margaret on returning the queen to her resting place. He delivers the potent line, “She belongs to ME,” which sums up the underlying conflict in the show. It is a very startling moment, but Herman writes a beautiful ending that gives justice to the women of the play.
Directed by Josie Eli Herman (with Craig Ester as assistant director), the show is fast-paced, flows from one scene to the next, and is a great example of how spooky and fantasy can still live in the realm of realism. Julia Garlotte’s eerie sound design holds the tone of the show, and the costumes from The Croswell Opera House keep us in the period. TyChi’s lighting is dynamic, and Aja Jenks’s set creates a beautiful manor, with help from Riverwalk Theatre.
If you want a creepy theater show to see this Halloween season, The Mummy Queen should be it.
Marley Boone is a theater professional that has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she would write theatre reviews for DC Metro Arts.
“The Mummy Queen" runs through October 29 at The Stone Chalet Event Center, 1917 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor, Michigan. For tickets and further information, visit pennyseats.org.