Stage: Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Adam Martin and Jody Rudman connect in ‘As Bees in Honey Drown.’
As Bees in Honey Drown
Thru Dec 3 at Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St, FW. $20-24.
Glossed Over

Depending on where you sit, Stage West’s version of As Bees in Honey Drown is either fun or clichéd.


Americans love the idea of the “self-made man,” or of the woman who takes charge of her life and becomes the person she was meant to be. Both concepts get battered in Stage West’s problematic but undeniably compelling revival of the ’90s New York comedy As Bees In Honey Drown. The central character is one Alexa Vere de Vere (played with graceful bombast by Jody Rudman), an alleged rock music producer and certified bon vivant who has the habit of nicknaming new friends “lamb” as she flutters her exquisitely mani-ed fingers. And everyone Alexa meets is a new friend, especially if they have some spare cash they’d like to be divested of. Her latest target is a torturously insecure young novelist named Evan Wyler (Adam Martin), who has himself engaged in a bit of reinvention. He dropped his Jewish-sounding surname so that people will assume the olive tint to his skin is due to his Welsh extraction. The pair collides in a sequin-covered dazzle of club lights, arch one-liners, multi-layered deceit, and even violence.

The playwright Douglas Carter Beane is probably best known to the non-theatergoing public as the writer of To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, a.k.a. “that Disney drag queen movie,” as John Waters described it with a shudder. Luckily, Beane’s stage career has reached several notches above putting Wesley Snipes in fake eyelashes and heels. When As Bees In Honey Drown opened about 10 years ago, it was a huge off-Broadway success, and just last year he rebounded with a critically revered comedy called The Little Dog Laughed, which features another flamboyantly duplicitous woman at its center.

When seen in its natural New York habitat, Bees was a light, slightly self-satisfied confection whose main preoccupation wasn’t so much identity or the creative process as it was “Isn’t it fabulous to be a New Yorker?” Stage West and director Jim Covault have opted for a decidedly darker and more complicated approach, pitching the writer Evan’s struggle with his craft as a battle of Jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel proportions. As the play opens, he’s just reluctantly posed shirtless for a celebrity mag as “the hot new novelist.” Secretly, he fears the writing process and wonders if he has any more books in him. Alexa sees his snapshot and immediately calls him up for a breakfast of “croissant with great lashings of butter” and a proposal to write the story of her international, tragedy-tinged life. Evan gets sucked into a vortex of stock comic types, including a pugnacious English rocker named Skunk (Charles Baker), a lay-it-on-the-line Jewish agent (Dennis Yslas), and, most significantly, a bohemian, “queer” painter (also Baker) who just might offer the gay Evan something more lasting than the explanation he seeks for how Alexa became Alexa.

It’s not sporting to give away too much of the second act, since the story of the creation of Ms. Vere de Vere is a lot of fun, if a bit familiar to anyone who’s read Breakfast at Tiffany’s. One of the problems with Stage West’s Bees is the perennial theatrical issue of how much heightened reality you’re willing to accept, how much disbelief you’re able to suspend. Rudman’s comic timing is scrumptiously confident. When Evan tells her he has a natural urge to create, she promptly snaps, “Suppress it.” But as good as Rudman is, the very instant this Alexa opens her mouth, it’s glaring as a floodlight that she’s a con artist. This conflicts with Martin’s delicate, poignant interpretation of Evan. He may be vulnerable, but he hardly comes across as that big a dupe. Her style is decidedly theatrical; his is naturalistic. Both are engaging performers, but, putting aside the issue of their characters’ mismatched sexual orientations, Alexa and Evan’s unlikely foray into romance is hard to swallow. They just never quite jell.

Frequent stagings over the years have turned As Bees In Honey Drown into quite the cash cow for its author. And Alexa Vere de Vere’s proud manifesto of “fame without achievement” looks to have a long shelf life — Paris Hilton hasn’t even turned 30 yet. The script will always be deficient, but Douglas Carter Beane could do a lot worse than Stage West’s vibrant, thoughtful rendition.

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