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A CurtainUp Review
As Bees in Honey Drown
By Elyse Sommer
Her name is Alexa Vere de Veer, (J. Smith-Cameron) and the life that she wants a young novelist, (Josh Hamilton), to turn into a Hollywood biography "is almost too entrancing even for me.&uot; The Bees of the title are the almost famous who are drawn in to the drowning point by the lure of big-time fame. They're the painters, dancers, musicians, writers sufficiently on the verge to be photographed, bare chested (or breasted), for a "People" type magazine.
In addition to the "almosts" there are the queen bees, the glitterati. Even they are not immune to the buzz of an event which promises to keep the sheen on their glamour. They say "thank you" even when they've been conned into lending the caché of the genuine article to a non-event. After all, why pass up an appearance that might stave off the the danger of drowning in anonymity instead of the sweet honey of fame.
Douglas Carter Beane, who has concocted this comic romp, and the Drama Dept. which produced it are still in the ranks of the almost famous. However, they are increasingly tasting the honey of acclaim for their original revivals of long-neglected classics. With this season's much heralded director Mark Brokaw, (This Is Our Youth and How I Learned to Drive), steering a cast of six through a veritable volley of quips and scene after scene of amusing and on-the-button revelations, the company's tag of "new classic" for As Bees In Honey Drown may well stick. For sure, the audience at the first performance open to critics laughed in all the right places--in fact, so long and loud that some lines slipped by. Not to worry. As the plot thickens, there are reprises to help you make sense of everything and "get" whatever you missed the first time around.
Brokaw has a fine cast to work with. Josh Hamilton last seen as a superficially cool and exploitative drug-dealer in This Is Our Youth, has ably switched to the persona of a writer who is more manipulated than manipulative. As for his sudden benefactor, the alluring and mysterious Alexa Vere de Veer, J. Smith-Cameron interprets her with all the over-the-top zaniness the part calls for. Unfortunately, her accent is also so thick that it's sometimes hard to understand everything she has to say. Which is plenty! She loves writers because "they always have the last word--they know so many" and "because nobody pulls the cashmere over the head of a writer." Being English she also knows a thing or two about the gay population in that country, and notes that "In England everyone is gay and when you say 'Queen' you have to specify." Yet she is hesitant to get involved with her biographer, not because he's gay but because "Boswell never became involved with Johnson.quot;
The other four players adeptly double and triple up. Cynthia Nixon is particularly good in several poker-faced parts--from the photographer's assistant who speaks only in the third person to the Hollywood secretary who grumbles "I don't know this putz-- and I know everyone!" Mark Nelson's several roles prove that he's as good an actor as he is a director. (He was the man who kept things hopping in June Moon)).
But what's a comedy without romance. Will Alexa and Evan get together despite her reservations and his sexual preference? If not Alexa and Evan, who's going to end up being whose honey? Which if any of some of the following pronouncements whipped out in the course of the evening turn out to be true?
"art is eternal"
"eternal isn't as long as it used to be.quot;
"Fame without achievement is the safest bet."
Other weighty matters you might end up considering are whether knowing how to use a semi-colon really matters and how much owning a suit from a high-priced haberdashery is really worth.
Like another just reviewed play, Baby Anger, by Peter Hedges, As Bees In Honey Drown could be viewed as a dark comedy about celebrity. However, unlike that play's grim edge, this one remains firmly rooted in its frothy surface. Both plays feature original music and sound design by the prolific David Van Tieghem, but where the Hedges play is backed by a sophisticated high tech set, Bees settles for Allen Moyers' nuts and bolts design--a reasonable compromise for the bargain-priced tickets ($12).
Plays mentioned above and previously reviewed include:
This Is Our Youth
How I Learned to Drive