KPBS AIRDATE: JUNE 8, 2001
“As Bees in Honey Drown” attracted a big buzz Off Broadway as a darkly funny, comedy, a slyly cynical commentary on our desperate desire for hype, fame and fortune, at any cost. Faust meets Auntie Mame (on speed) in this riff on youth, creativity, celebrity and the art of manipulation.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has a unique voice and a cunning style. He introduces us to characters sequentially and simultaneously. At one point, there’s a conversational fugue, as five different characters come downstage and talk to us at once. The fourth wall goes up and down. We’re outside the action, observing, and then we’re conspiratorially within; but we still don’t quite know exactly who’s doing what to whom, or why. The structure is imaginative, but the play fails to engage.
At first, it seems mysterious and inscrutable. There’s this young writer being pursued by a flamboyant socialite, tempting him with Big Bucks to write her incredibly exciting life story. It’s too good to pass up. And before he can say Master Card, she’s wining and dining him, and without realizing it, he’s picking up the tab. Ultimately, he finds his authorial voice, the love of his life, and a trail of battered bodies, others brutalized by the femme fatale.
Ace actor Karole Foreman stepped into the humongous role of Alexa Vere de Vere just one week before previews began, and she’s terrific. But her character is so hyperverbal, hyperbolic and hyper-repetitive, she’s exhausting. Her relentless pursuit of the almost-famous is only amusing to a point. Andy Fullerton’s zhlubby novelist is also generally less interesting than one might hope. A cast of eccentrics parades by, all competently and often humorously portrayed by Rick Stevens, Laura Bozanich, Jessa Watson and, best of all, Greg Tankersley.
But we don’t really give much of a hoot for any of them, and the denouement is more predictable than we’ve been led to expect. Marty Burnett’s set is a movable feast of primary color geometric panels, nicely lit by Karen Filijan. Shelly Williams’ costumes are a riot. I’m still trying to figure out why it all left me cold. Perhaps there’s something emotionally distancing about Patrick McBride’s efficient direction, which, with its bold strokes, aims mostly for broad humor. Not much subtlety here. Maybe it’s the play, which is a bit too smug and self-satisfied for its own good, not quite nasty, smart, witty or enigmatic enough. Maybe it just isn’t my cup of comedic bile. But it may well be yours.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.