Through no fault of the smart production at SCP, Act I of “As Bees in Honey Drown” almost squanders the good will of the audience. But Act II redeems your investment.
Douglas Carter Beane’s 1997 comedy opens with the Backstreet Boys’ hit “I Want It That Way,” and the “I” here is Alexa Vere de Vere (Cristine M. Loffredo), a fascinating monologuist about the rich and famous she has (supposedly) romped and worked with.
The self-dramatizing narrative (think of Blanche Du Bois or Amanda Wingfield) is performed for the benefit of Evan Wyler (Knathan MacKenzie-Roy), an aspiring gay writer who, with the publication of his novel after nine years of writing, is now a hot commodity with a magazine shot featuring his hairy chest.
Alexa has contacted him and promised a world of fashion, fame, and fortune if he will write her biography. Trouble is, she is a con artist who soon takes him for $15,000 and, his sexual orientation notwithstanding, a piece of his heart.
For my money, Act I is simply a too-long exposition, full of pages of Alexa’s reminiscences that even the estimable Loffredo has a hard time making more than one note.
Act II, however, springs to life and interest with some variety of scene-making (like a delicious five-person conversational fugue and a flashback of the moment one Brenda Gelb became Alexa). The pseudonym fits: the puckish Mr. Beane ironically reminds us of the root “ver,” meaning “truth,” of which Alexa spouts precious little; and Edward de Vere, who, some think, was the real author of Shakespeare’s works. The play ends with an amusing takedown of Alexa’s high-handedness, and Evan’s newfound literary and romantic success.
Director Mark Stephens, Beane’s equal in puckishness, has assembled a crack tech team to execute his vision: Donald Mealy (producer), Amy Sarah La Mena (assistant director), Duncan Morrison (set), Marcia Thomas and Joseph Fava (costumes), Elise Charlebois (lights, sound), John Fowler (hair), and Nick Muscatiello (fight choreographer).
The play’s secondary characters are played by a quartet of chameleons. Michael Schaefer amuses as a photographer and provides needed gravitas as Morris Kaden, another dupe. Pat Brady has only to walk across the stage or laugh elegantly to evoke a personality.
Laura Graver lights up the first scene as Amber — and every other scene she’s in, no matter the character. And after delighting as Ronald, a chatty, attentive salesman, Jonathan Biszick nearly steals the show as Michael Stabinsky, the play’s only real three-dimensional person.
Loffredo demonstrates her considerable range in a scene in Act II with Biszick, and she handles Alexa’s occasionally amusing flights of fancy with aplomb.
MacKenzie-Roy convincingly makes Evan someone you alternately want to shake and hug. Innocent Evan doesn’t quite go for Alexa’s philosophy — “fame without achievement is the safest bet I know” (a la the Kardashians) — but he’s in too deep. And MacKenzie-Roy and Biszick are riveting in a sweet scene in Act II.
Stephens keeps the pace as brisk as possible in Act I and then allows some breathing room in Act II. Fine work.
Do come back after intermission.
‘As Bees in Honey Drown’
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through Dec. 10
INFO: 518-382-2081 or civicplayers.org
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