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Theater Review: “As Bees in Honey Drown”

“As Bees in Honey Drown” plays through February 10, 2018, at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

If you’re the type who believes the only thing that matters is “the hum, the buzz, the hype, the flash, the flame,” then you probably deserve to get taken by quintessential (but charming) grifter Alexa Vere de Vere.

Douglas Carter Beane’s 1997 off-Broadway hit “As Bees in Honey Drown” – a deliciously outlandish satire on writers and their insatiable thirst for fame – gets a smashing production through Feb. 10 at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse.

The “bee” in this instance is fledgling writer Evan Wyler (Aaron Lugo), who recently published his first novel and has stars in his eyes.

When flashy Alexa approaches, flatters the heck out of him and asks him to write her story for a projected film that she will produce, well....how could he resist?

He dutifully pulls out his notebook and starts scribbling. He finds that Alexa has a story for every occasion, each a bit more fantastical than the last, but they *sound* so great.

One thing she tells him about is her “forced” marriage to a man she didn’t love, a rich man named Mike Strabinsky, who did (at least) set her up in business.

Alexa takes a liking to Wyler, and soon they are in a clothing store buying him a suit. How many potential employers would do that? Never mind that she asks him to put it on his credit card and she will reimburse. 

Soon, the credit card incidents do not get reimbursed, but by then Wyler’s too far gone with the glitz – after all, who wouldn’t love to be around someone who says things like “Everyone in England is gay. When you say the queen, you have to specify” -- especially when they promise big bucks for a script? After all, the modest fame he has attained hasn’t translated to riches, and he’s getting antsy. “No one ever tells you about that little breather period between critical success and financial success,” he complains.

Eventually, Wyler gets the message and looks up some of the people Alexa has mentioned. James P. Darvas is a hoot as Strabinsky, more amused than anything else at Alexa’s increasingly imaginative fictions about him. “How did I die this time?” is his first question.

Record exec Kaden (Anthony Gordon Hamm) asks “How much did she take you for?” and offers other victims Wyler might want to talk to. (Alexa claims to have hired musicians.)

This is satire on the surface, but deliberately so, since everything is on the surface In Alexa’s world. It’s also clever writing.

Beane knows his way around interesting characters. Alexa is more extreme than most, and comes across on paper as a bit of an annoying bore. But Sandra Ruiz has the phenom that is Alexa pegged, and successfully toes the line between fascinating and just plain irritating. 

Aaron Lugo is perfect as the unsuspecting mark, so willing to believe in order “not to have to be you anymore,” as Kaden puts it.

Hamm’s Kaden is on point as another of Alexa’s many victims.

Emily Candia, Maybelle Covington, Edgar Diaz-Gutierrez are amusing as well in smaller roles.

Special praise goes to Lisa Burgess for the costumes, especially those for Alexa. 

Lighting and sound are well handled by Chad Oakley and Carla Nell, respectively, and the versatility of Karl Bunker’s set is a big plus. 

We’re all looking for recognition in some form. “As Bees in Honey Drown” reminds us of the dangers of needing it too much.

The details

“As Bees in Honey Drown” plays through February 10, 2018, at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue (near F Street), Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 422-7787 or www.onstageplayhouse.org