August 5, 2017

"A Parallelogram" Doesn't Play It Straight

Whimsy has never really been my cup of tea. And alas, A Parallelogramthe Bruce Norris play that opened at Second Stage Theater this past week, is reeking of it.  A dark comedy, it tells the story of a woman named Bee who, as a result of some metaphysical mumbo jumbo, may have encountered a future version of herself that no one else can see. Or she may just be losing her mind.

The future Bee, a dumpy Oreo-eating sixtysomething year-old (played with determined brio by Anita Gillette) arrives with a remote control device that allows her to rewind and revise actual life events. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the question the present-day Bee asks her boyfriend Jay about what someone might do if she could go back into the past and prevent bad things from happening.

This is the kind of existential query (punctuated with pointedly allegorical character names) that's supposed to appeal to those of us who fancy ourselves to be serious theatergoers. But it's hard to take it seriously when Bee is so solipsistic that she hardly stirs from her bed when her future self tells her that a coming plague is going to wipe out most of the earth's population.

Still, Norris, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Clybourne Park, is a master of the snappy line and the largely silver-haired audience at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended ate up his wry observations about growing older.

Director Michael Greif is a master stager of all kinds of material, from the original production of Rent to the acclaimed 2010 revival of Angels in America, and he's adept here as well, working hard to delineate the time shifts as Bee bounces back and forth between moments in her life. Hats off, too, to scenic designer Rachel Hauck and the stage crew for the fast set changes.

The show also has a top-notch cast, with a doughty Celia Keenan-Bolger as Bee, Stephen Kunken as Jay, an older guy who's left his wife and kids to be with Bee; Gillette as the mysterious older Bee (click here to read an interview with the actresses) and Juan Castano as JJ, a hunky younger Mexican-American man who befriends Bee while cutting her lawn.

But neither the good acting nor the jocular dialogue made me care about either of the Bees or the men in their life. In the end, the only takeaway the play could offer up is that life is better when people are nice to one another. Which, and forgive me if I'm being too pragmatic here, I knew going in.

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