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As Bees In Honey Drown


Darlinghurst Theatre Company & Blue-in De Face Productions Present AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN by Douglas Carter Beane, at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

The first act of this American play introduces us to Evan Wyler who has just had his first novel published and in one of the trendy magazines has had a commercially salacious photographic portrait, and presumably article, declaring him the latest “HOT” writer to watch: for a possible dazzling future!! We next meet an audaciously named whirlwind of a promoter, Alexa Vere de Vere, who commissions Evan to write a “treatment” of her life for the Hollywood moguls to bid for, to turn into a screenplay and ultimately a film, her intuition for talent landing on “HOT” Evan Wyler.

Alexa sweeps the beguiled and innocently ambitious young man onto a “magic carpet” journey of experiences and expressed possibilities, a promise of “honey”, at such a breathless speed of thrill, that good sense has no time to assert itself until….. truth of a scam artist has enveloped him into humiliation and debt, and reality is thumpingly hammered home physically by another of his kind, the duped latest “Hot” thing a punk rocker, looking for retribution.

The propulsion of this first act is the character of Alexa Vere de Vere, who once was a provincial “Brenda”, who has now morphed herself into an amalgam of Patrick Dennis’s AUNTIE MAME, Christopher Isherwood’s Sally Bowles from MR NORRIS CHANGES TRAINS and GOODBYE TO BERLIN and Holly Golightly from Truman Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Alexa (derived from Alexis of television’s DYNASTY) speaks in a profusion of cultural references, (especially New York), that may in Sydney in 2009, sometimes be a little mysterious and bewildering and so some of the comic intentions of the writer may fall a little flat. But there is a real attractiveness to her type of promises.

It can be amusing, and sometimes is. Certainly the director, James Beach has a wonderful panache and instinct for style. (A rare commodity in young contemporary directors in Sydney.) In this case a “high camp” sense of scenic and verbal rhythm plus a fashionista’s visual taste. The Set & Costume designer, James Browne, has created for this production a world of some wit and exaggerated invention, especially in the costume, wig and make-up areas of his responsibility. The revolving “glass” door, central to the design action is also promisingly artistically arresting. (The Lighting and the Sound design unfortunately do not have the same sense of fun or style-rather, they seem not as developed as the other design elements.)

The principle problem lies in the performance of Ms Lucy Miller, who plays Alexa, with the right enthusiastic energy and instinctive accurate sense of the style, but lacks the technical armoury of the vocal requirements for this merciless bravura role. It requires the brilliant mastery of an instrument that has real musical range and impeccable diction management. (The work of Rosalind Russell in the AUNTIE MAME film, which is parodied [quoted] in the second act of this play, is a fine example of what is needed) To often Ms Milller gabbles the text and de-voices for affects that are then not communicated to the audience, except in a generalised energised, passionate sound. The sense of the scene is then de-energised and the champagne bubbles of ridiculous comedy deflates. The performance, although intelligently alert to the potentials of the role, has a relentless one noted superficiality in its craft. The textual vocalisations are not proficient enough to keep us entranced.

In the second act of the play, Evan, who finds himself so distressed by his brush with Alexa that he has lost his ability to write, searches for a means of revenge and meets Michael Stabinsky (MIKE, a painter), the original partner of “Brenda” and discovers, through a set of re-enactments the history of Alexa. A final scene of meeting between Alexa and Evan results in the final revelation of poor Brenda who despite all of her cleverness and ambition as a bee drowned in the honey of her own addictive fictions and the need to be sustained in them. (She clearly is in need of some of those famous New York Therapy Sessions.)

The comic writing in this act is not as sustained as the first, however, as the focus of the action of the play is shared more evenly with other characters (Evan and Mike), the play seems to gain a substance that it previously otherwise lacked. Garth Holcombe (Evan) and James Lugton (Mike ) bring an earthing sense of gravitas and a subtle development of a relationship, revealing two bees that have extricated themselves from the honey of glamorous but unsubstantiated celebrity. For, of course, Evan as Eric (his real name) finds that once he has had the cleansing confrontation with Alexa and discovers her addictive “perversion”, can write again and VOILA, the Novel version of the play we are watching as its genesis and is published. The play is essentially silly, but, still diverting enough to attend.

Garth Holcombe gives a finely judged moment to moment journey throughout a fairly underwritten character, to give the play, in this production, a real spine. It is a fairly impressive and subtle performance.

James Lugton,as well shows a versatility and craftsmanship in the various roles he is asked to create :From the “dizzy”shop assistant Ronald, to a punk musician Skunk, to a sympathetically and sober gentleman artist ,Mike. Mike under the care of Mr Lugton has a depth that gives the second act it’s anchor.

In smaller support work, Berynn Schwerdt is also pleasingly inventive and secure. His innate sense of timing and wit used subtly to create real people in a crazy world. The creation of Kaden, the producer, is well worth watching for its cleverly timed observations and execution. ( I remarked, if ever anyone was looking to revive THE ODD COUPLE, Mr Schwerdt would make a great Oscar.)

Although, ultimately the writing is not always great and although the central performance lacks the technical flexibility needed to give the role that “Auntie Mame mad-capness” alluded to in the play itself, AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN is a diverting, and relievedly, a night of gentle inconsequential humour, that has a deserved place in the curating of a season of theatre in Sydney. More of this silliness, well done, may be a good thing in our present state of play in our lives in the real world.

Playing now until 7 March. Book online or call 02 8356 9987.

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