Theater Review: Heights Players production shines, by Kimberly Gail Price

“A Delicious Soufflé of Satire” NY Times
“All of us, the creative people, tearing about trying to feed a nations insatiable appetite for entertainment. Making truckloads of money we never see so we can discover something new and vivid to present to poor fun-starved modern civilization. The new becoming old almost before we find the newer new… as bees in honey drown.” ~ Alexa to Evan

Douglass Carter Bean’s As Bees in Honey Drown is a satirical comedy that was nominated for a Tony Award in 2007 for Best Play. It has been revived by the Heights Players and opened on February 28 with high expectations and provides virtually no letdowns.
Evan Wyler is a new writer in town. Alexa Vere de Vere is the promiser of all Evan’s dreams and more.

Alexa, played by Kathryn Stevens, hands the check over to Evan, played by Scot Cahoon, (photos by Joe Pacifico)

Alexa, played by Kathryn Stevens, hands the check over to Evan, played by Scot Cahoon, (photos by Joe Pacifico)

Evan, played by Scot Cahoon, has tasted his first morsel of fame. As a young naïve talent, he is quickly taken in by glamorous and worldly Alexa, played by Kathryn Stevens.
As a struggling artist, Evan’s eyes light up at the prospect of fame and fortune. Evan eventually ends up paying for all of the expenses, although Alexa has promised to reimburse him with cash, hiding this from Evan’s agent. Alexa eventually seduces Evan psychologically, emotionally and physically, despite the fact that Evan is gay. Alexa tells him “You’re not the person you were born – who wonderful is? You’re the person you were meant to be.”

Although the audience is not fooled by Alexa’s trickery, Evan certainly is. Only a brute force can knock sense into Evan. Skunk, leader of a British rock and roll band, played by Mackenzie Knapp, blames Evan for Alexa’s scam and roughs him up on stage.
A bleeding and unbelieving Evan begins to realize the truth – and his predicament – now that Alexa has robbed him blind.

Following intermission, Evan is searching for the truth about Alexa. He discovers much more about her than he bargained for. And he is determined to get his money back, or at least avenge her.

Evan conspires with others she has conned to avenge his naivety, making new friends along the way.

As Bees in Honey Drown is a satirical comedy full of punch lines and wit. The script is full of predictable and unpredictable plot twists. Although some of the plot points are obvious, the escalation and voyage to each one is what makes this script unique. The play requires the action to be driven by the energy and focus of the actors. The cast does not disappoint.
Though most actors play multiple roles, they slide very easily into the roles of each. Their acting choices are unique and believable throughout.

Cahoon depicts an honest straightforward writer who is looking for his meager slice of the pie. As Alexa’s influence grows one him, his slice grows in his mind too. Cahoon rises to the occasion with believability from the naïve entre nous through the end of the script when he becomes the aggressor. He is truthful to the role, never over- or under-playing his predicament. He follows the script faithfully to the end and allows Alexa’s actions to guide his performance.

Cahoon is from Colorado. He is making his debut performance on a New York stage.
Stevens plays a convincing British debutant throughout the first act. Her neutral could-be-from-anywhere England accent misleads the audience almost into believing that she is what she says she is. However, her auspicious actions give her away. At times, her accent slips ever so slightly, begging the question of her true identity, which is revealed after intermission.

Stevens embraces the glamour and poise Alexa requires. She is over the top in moments of grandeur, yet honest to the character in sensitive moments. Her ability to switch between the character’s two facades makes it easy to accept her dominance over Evan.
Although her transition from Alexa back into her former self is immediate, Stevens is able to slowly shift gears from her past into her future. The acceptance of Alexa is gradual and realistic, demonstrating that it takes time to become someone else.
Stevens earned her theater degree from Penn State and has appeared in other Heights Players productions.

Teddy Lytle first appears as the photographer in the opening scene. He also plays Swen, a clerk at the Royalton Hotel and Kaden. His roles are vastly differing and he is able to support each one equally. From the cock superiority of the photographer to the paternal influence as Kaden, he shifts between the two as seemingly two separate actors. He does the same between the submissive hotel clerk and the unrefined Swedish model, Swen.
Lytle is a well-grounded actor capable of switching from one persona to the next in relatively little time. There was no rub-off between his characters; each was the solid make-up he had given each one with absolutely no overlap.

Lytle is a NYC based actor and also a fight choreographer. This is his first production with the Heights Players.

Alexa sits before her loyal subjects who do not yet realized they are being conned in the Heights Players production of As Bees in Honey Drown.

Alexa sits before her loyal subjects who do not yet realized they are being conned in the Heights Players production of As Bees in Honey Drown.

MacKenzie Knapp played Skunk, a rock and roll hothead; Ronald, sales clerk at Saks Fifth Avenue; and Michael, Alexa’s dead husband, who turned out o not be so dead after all. Knapp’s characters also widely differ. As Ronald, he plays a very flamboyant gay man. After a 180 degree turn, he appears as Skunk, macho and intimidating. Michael, who is also gay, is mild mannered and patient, and distinctly masculine.

As Michael, Knapp’s work is honest, heartening and solid. He concept of timing and subdued restraint is dead on. He is enamoring to watch, and stays connected, even while involved in multiple scenes at the same time. While talking to the former Alexis of the past and conveying information to Evan in the present, he is not shaken from his focus. In scenes with overlapping dialogue, his timing and presentation is impeccable.

Ronald is the fun-loving spirited presence that reveals information about Alexis. Albeit false info, it is unknown if it is true to him or if he is in on the scam. Knapp gives no indication either way, playing along the safe lines of honesty.

As Skunk, Knapp seems to be a little less comfortable. The over-the-top egomaniac is difficult to gage. The emotion Knapp gives the character is candid, but the character is portrayed too brashly from the beginning, allowing no opportunity for a climatic rise in temperament.

Megan Lee played Amber, Backup Singer, Secretary, Bethany, Ginny, and Second Muse. Her performance as all was enchanting, although each role was a minor part that helped drive the plot in some way. Her most notable performance is the opening scene, when she plays the photographer’s assistant, Amber. She twirls around, throws herself on the floor and talks to herself in third person. “Amber wants to dance…” She is reluctant to participate in the photo shoot, but unenthusiastically does when commanded to.

Kate-Olivia O’Brien is cast as Waiter, Backup Singer, Carla, Newsstand Woman, Denise, Illya, and Muse. Each part is minor, but while performing seven roles in the same production, she has scores of appearances on stage. She is at her best during a five way phone call between other characters who are feeding information to Evan about Alexa. Her voice is steady and vibrant throughout. Although she is upstage away from the center of the action, her strong stage presence allows her not only to be heard, but draws the audience’s attention to her.

Bees in Honey is performed in the Heights Players’ black-box theater The show requires constant set changes in a variety of and recurring locations. To simplify this process, director and set designer, Bernard Bosio uses non-specific objects for the scenery to create various roles for each piece.

Wooben boxes are constantly rearranged to transform into chairs, a plush couch at a nightclub and even rowed seating of a limousine. While this choice coerces the audience into using a little more imagination, the actors made specific choices to help alter the reality.
Swed, while riding in the limousine, reaches down to turn up the radio as blasting rock and roll slams the ears of the audience. Later in the ride, Alexa and Evan pop outside the limo’s imaginary sun roof for some fresh air. While the details of the set may have been lacking, the actors helped the director achieve the site specific settings.

The set also incorporates sliding panels along the upstage wall. Entry points and specific placement of doors helps the audience follow the scene changes. For an elevator ride, one door slides half-way open, soft music is played, and a green light illuminates the interior space, creating the full experience of an elevator.

The lighting accompanying the show is well-rehearsed and aptly appropriate for each scene. At the club where Evan and Alexa are sipping cocktails, bold coloring slowly flashes on and off, an effect the audience may have not noticed specifically, but set the stage perfectly for a posh nightclub one might expect to find the exotic Alexa in.

Actors played multiple roles in the production, as many as seven characters for one actress. Quick and specific costume changes are a necessity, as audience members must quickly discern one from the other in the quick moving plot. Each character has specific and wildly diverse outfits with instantly recognizable accessories.

Skunk, up and coming rock and roll heavyweight wore a bright yellow bandana, while Ronald, a clerk at Saks 5th Avenue wore a crimson red button-up with a black bowtie. Both characters were played by Knapp.

Lytle played both Swen, a Swedish model; and Kaden, a record producer and scorned lover of Alexa. Swek wore a tank-top with a ratty short-sleeve button-up that was never buttoned and usually untamed. Kaden wore a suit and tie with everything buttoned up to his Adam’s apple.

Director, Bernard Bosio has made several intellectual and sound choices with this selection. Although Alexa is the antagonist, there is much truth to her character’s motivation. In Alexa’s line, “You’re not the person you were born – who wonderful is? You’re the person you were meant to be,” she is exposing a dark secret about herself. Evan, the protagonist, and eventually the downfall of Alexa, is not entirely perfect, but has his own character flaws that allow him to be duped. Ambition and inexperience lead him right into Alexa’s trap.

Alexa’s recurring line, “As bees in honey drown,” suggests that she may be the bee drowning in her own honey, even though she portrays a persona that seems to have every single bit of life figured out.

“There are so many people waiting to criticize or capitalize and all you want to do is make something that will connect with other people so that we all won’t feel so profoundly alone,” she says. And that’s exactly what she creates for herself. An imaginary life of affluence and fresh creative energy masking her loneliness.

“There are pitfalls, dead ends, unscrupulous opportunists, and outright con artists that wait for the unwary, the naïve, the overly trusting,” writes Bosio. “All of us are aware of numerous real-life examples of artists losing their art, their fortunes, their lives.”
Although Evan is the artist on stage who is taken advantage of, perhaps in some way, Alexa’s first con was herself, depriving herself of her true identity and ultimately losing her own art to become something other than herself.

As Bees in Honey Drown runs through March 16 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752 or visit http://www.heightsplayers.org. Tickets are $20, or $18 for seniors and youths under 18.

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