By Mary Damiano
The line between self-realization and self-invention is blurred in As Bees in Honey Drown by Douglas Carter Beane, now playing at Rising Action Theatre in Fort Lauderdale.
Beane explores the relationship between life and art, and the obsession with getting one’s 15 minutes at any cost. His vehicle for this exploration is Alexa Vere de Vere (Amy McKenna), an effusive, name-dropping, self-proclaimed star maker who sets her sights on Evan Wyler (Andrew Wind) a young gay writer desperate to go from struggling debut novelist to rich, celebrated writer. Evan is quickly swept away by Alexa’s dizzying glamour, flashes of cash, and her tales of a dramatic past and jet-set lifestyle. And when Alexa promises that she can make all of Evan’s dreams come true, his hunger for fame clouds his better judgment, though he soon learns the hard lesson that all that glitters is not gold.
The production, the first under the leadership of new producing director Andy Rogow, is a few cuts above the typical Rising Action fare, but is not without its own missteps.
Rogow has attracted some prestigious talent for this production, including director Avi Hoffman and actress McKenna. But even with these feathers in Rising Action’s cap, the cap is still somewhat askew.
First off, the performances are uneven. In the first act, McKenna often stumbles over Beane’s rapid-fire dialogue, which hurts her performance as the seemingly flawless Alexa. She shines in the second act during an extended flashback scene, showing Alexa’s transformation from crass to class. Wind is perfectly cast; his handsome, wide-eyed face is a canvas just waiting for the world to make its mark. Wind and McKenna play off each other well, his innocence and her queen bee worldliness. Peter Librach tackles several roles admirably, but his flaming suit salesman and rough rock star wannabe do not come close to his pleasant turn in the second act as a refreshingly honest gay painter. The rest of the ensemble tries but does not make much of an impact.
Second, the bare bones scenic design and shoddy lighting fails to transport the audience to the world of the play. The failures of these important design elements create a distance between the production and the audience, which keeps those watching from experiencing the transcendence of theater. The pacing is sluggish in the first act, but does pick up somewhat in the second. And in true Rising Action fashion, two performers are seen in various states of undress.
As Bees in Honey Drown is a good play, and while Rising Action’s production does have some redeeming qualities, it’s still not as sweet as it should be.
As Bees in Honey Drown runs through Oct. 9 at Rising Action Theatre, performed at Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 SW 9th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Performances 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Call (954) 561-2225 or (800) 595-4849 or visit www.risingactiontheatre.com.