by Emily Edelman

Dorset Theatre Festival’s final live offering in its 2021 season is “Queen of the Night” by travis tate, in which a father (Danny Johnson) and son (Leland Fowler) explore family relationships, queerness and masculinity while on a camping trip in southeast Texas.

Dorset’s specially built outdoor stage in the meadow at Southern Vermont Arts Center provides the perfect setting for a play about camping: The sun sets shortly after the play begins and the same darkness envelopes both audience and actors, making the experience that much more personal. When Fowler, as son Ty ,addresses the audience and describes his vulnerability in love, it is apparent that the proverbial fourth wall didn’t even exist in the first place in this piece. Director Raz Golden convincingly portrays just how delicate and difficult the relationship between the two men has become, and the intimacy that the setting creates between actors and audience make the tension and emotions seem that much stronger.

There is a certain amount of what you might refer to as downtime in the show, in which the characters are putting up tents, reading before bed, etc. It can sometimes feel awkward to watch scenes like this, and that awkwardness carries through beautifully when the action starts up again, allowing the audience a sense of what the relationship between father and son must feel like.

Christopher and Justin Swader’s beautiful set is enhanced by being in the actual out-of-doors. Notable also is Yuki Nakase Link’s lighting design — I imagine that accurately and subtly lighting an outdoor setting is not terribly easy, and was especially taken with the realistic depiction of early morning against the actual backdrop of a very dark night. Megumi Katayama’s sound was complemented by the noises coming from the nearby real-life forest, adding to the immersion factor. 

All of the above elements combined to make the experience feel more like eavesdropping on a private conversation than watching a play — definitely recommended for an all-encompassing, expansive and inspiring event.

The Dorset Theatre Festival production of “Queen of the Night” plays at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, 930 Southern Vermont Arts Center Drive, Manchester, Vermont, through Saturday, Sept. 4. For tickets and information, call the box office at (802) 867-2223 x101 or go online.

Playwright: travis tate; director: Raz Golden; cast: Danny Johnson, Leland Fowler; scenery: Christopher & Justin Swader; costumes: Fabian Fidel Aguilar; lighting: Yuki Nakase Link; sound: Megumi Katayama; production dramaturg: Graham Schmidt; fight director; David Anzuelo; stage manger: Julia Bates; casting: Judy Bowman, CSA

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