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QUEENS FOR A YEAR, a derogatory reference for female soldiers, is an earnest but unfocused play, in its world premiere at Hartford Stage, about the pain and valor of women Marines. Set in 2007, officer Molly Solinas, fifth generation female marine, befriends private Amanda Lewis, after Amanda reveals she’d been raped by a male grunt while in service in Iraq. After Molly concludes military justice is elusive for Amanda, the two seek refuge in Molly’s family cabin, inhabited by Molly’s aunts and grandmother, all of whom served. Playwright T. D Mitchell presents, through the meanderings of benignly demented Alice, a lot of little known and interesting historical snippets of female Marine service back to 1917. Molly’s lesbian aunt, Lucy, who suffers from PTSD, left the service and now wants back in: her character lets Mitchell address the stereotype. Says Molly, commenting on the view of most enlistees, “if you’re a woman in the marines you’re either a bitch, a slut or a dyke.” Through Amanda, Mitchell informs that danger of sexual assault is as real as danger of combat to women who serve. Molly’s mother Mae marches to a different drummer: she philosophizes about the mythology of war, which is, I suppose, the playwright’s way of telling us what her play is all about. Unfortunately, narrative clutter doesn’t lead to dramatic clarity. By the second act, Molly’s defensive protection of Amanda puts the entire household’s safety in jeopardy, which is the highpoint of the action. But, there’s not much drama, mostly because Mitchell’s script loses focus on both the central conflict and the emotions of Molly, the central character. Lucie Tiberghien’s direction doesn’t compensate: stage movement lacks fluidity, plus Daniel Conway’s set is static. It was hard to be engaged by or really care about any of the characters, but of all the cast, actor Heidi Armbruster’s take on Aunt Lucy was vivid and likable.

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