The last performance of the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of Fit for a Queen will be Sunday.
Fit for a Queen is the earliest play of mine I still list on my website. In some ways, it’s my first real play.
I wrote it at a point when I was profoundly disillusioned with politics in general and the activists I knew in particular, most especially myself.
I had begun to see everything anyone did as a ploy for power and attention. The professors and student speakers at rallies for causes I cared about seemed like wanna-demagogues, preaching to the converted for their own aggrandizement. When I was asked to speak, I too felt like a wannabe-demagogue who cared more about how I came off than what I actually accomplished.
It seemed myopically cruel to organize conferences about refugees at Ivy League colleges and end them by blowing a ton of our university’s money on fancy meals for our invited speakers and ourselves. Yet, how I enjoyed those meals!
I questioned why I cared about the causes I did, and not others, and what it said about me.
I began to feel like humans were incapable of truly loving other people – that the only way we could co-exist with anyone at all is if we somehow saw some others (whether it is our family or our tribe or our nation) as extensions of ourselves, and therefore worthy of protection, nurturing, and love.
In other words, we mistook others for ourselves rather than truly cared about others.
These feelings were deeply at odds with that part of me that I knew also existed – the part of me that recognized nothing I did in a day made me feel better than standing up in a subway car for someone who needed to sit down. That part of me that hungered to be a kind person more than I yearned to be seen as a talented, famous, or smart one. That part of me that understood that the reason being kind is so important is because it is the only thing all of us can be.
I wrote Fit for a Queen at a time when I was deeply unsettled. My world didn’t feel comic or tragic. It was coming at me as always both at the time. I aimed to create a play that reflected and reveled in that sense of dislocation - where you not only laugh so you don’t cry, but also cry until there’s nothing left to do but laugh at how absurdly cruel and coldly calculating we all can be if left to our own devices.
In the play, I changed the gender of Hatshepsut’s favorite underling, Senenmut, from male to female. I also shortened Hatshepsut’s reign from twenty years to six months.
A producer who was keen on doing this play five years ago dropped the project when she realized I hadn’t stuck more closely to the historical record after she visiting the Egyptian collection at the Met. That damn Met! With all its damn truth always on display! It outs you every time.
It’s been said that we lie 3 times on average per every 10 minutes of conversation.
That means we are incapable of telling a 10 minute story about the most mundane aspect of our day without embellishing, exaggerating, and outright fabricating.
Why do we do that, Friends? To make our perspective, the real point of the story, clearer.
The facts in Fit for a Queen that are “true” are the aspects of this woman’s story that mattered most of me. When Hatshepsut died, her son-in-law Thutmose III took over and decreed that every image of her dressed as a male pharaoh was to be destroyed. He had her name stripped from the lists of ruler as if her reign never existed. He intended to allow only images of her as a wife and daughter, standing forever behind her husband or her father, to remain.
When I see how the audience laughs at the character of Thutmose III that I created, I can’t help but think that the many statues and sphinxs of Pharaoh Hatshepsut in museums throughout the world, which were unearthed and painstakingly reconstructed thousands of years later, all collectively smile.
I know I do.
There is something incredibly fun about having someone declare, “No one will know the story of Hatshepsut!” in a play about Hatshepsut.
Stories aren’t like people. You can’t kill them. Trying to do so only makes you a buffoon.
She got the last laugh.
We close on Sunday.