“As Bees in Honey Drown”

photo courtesy of John Lamb

Play:        “As Bees in Honey Drown”

Group:        Stray Dog Theatre

Venue:        Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue

Dates:        December 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18

Tickets:    $18-$20; contact 314-865-1995 or www.straydogtheatre.org

Story:    Evan Wyler is thirsting for fame and fortune.  He has the talent to have written a novel that has been published, but so far the notoriety has been elusive.  He’s intrigued, therefore, when he meets a glamorous producer in New York who asks him to write a screenplay based on her life.  Alexa Vere de Vere is sexy, stimulating, witty and charming, and easily ensnares the impressionable Evan into agreeing to do the project.

    All seems fabulous at first to Evan, who is taken to Saks and fitted with a flashy new suit by Alexa, even if she oddly asks him to put the bill on his credit card and pays him directly in cash. Alexa, it turns out, is one good-looking con artist who makes a living bilking celebrity wannabes out of their money, leaving a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets behind.  This time, however, she’s met her match in Evan, who vows revenge and enlists the aid of several other victims.  In the process, he tracks down Alexa’s former partner, a painter named Mike who, even though gay like Evan, has nonetheless been the subject of Alexa’s amorous advances while she giddily enjoyed the fruits of her illicit gains.  Can Mike help Evan achieve retribution?

Highlights:    First produced in 1997, this two-act comedy by Douglas Carter Beane is highly reminiscent of another of his successful works, the derivative “The Little Dog Laughed,” which garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Play in 2007.  Both of these shows are clever, well-written and highly entertaining looks at the fast-paced whirlwind known as stardom and the ruthless people often behind celebrity status.  Stray Dog Theatre’s current production of “Bees” is thoroughly charming and delightful in its execution under artistic director Gary Bell’s brisk direction, a brightly wrapped holiday treat that offers laughs and surprises as it’s opened.

Other Info:    Bell has corralled the energy and exuberance of his cast to present Beane’s cautionary tale in winsome style, matching the swift scene changes with a number of delightful performances.  Sarajane Alverson makes an appealing and beguiling Alexa, all the more so after we see her transformation from small-town Pennsylvania girl to the sophisticated woman-about-town.  Alverson keeps the story moving forward by maintaining Alexa’s equilibrium even as the facts begin to catch up with her, showing us the woman’s mental dexterity as well as her seriously flawed moral compass.

    Martin Fox is outstanding as the agreeable Evan, who finds himself attracted to the enchanting seductress despite his sexual preference.  Watching him as he realizes what has happened, and then how he goes about revenge, is an intoxicating journey.

    Bell also adroitly utilizes the supporting cast to refine a number of smaller roles, particularly Stephen Pierick as Alexa’s former business partner.  Pierick makes Mike a fully realized character in a performance that may be his best work to date.  There are also nice bits offered by Kevin Boehm, Bess Moynihan and Anna Skidis in addition to Pierick as other artists who have been bilked by the flim-flam femme fatale.

    L.D. Lawson’s set design includes a precarious second story that serves as a fancy restaurant and other locales, with a New York City skyline perched in the background.  Bell’s costumes fit the styles of the characters represented, Tyler Duenow’s lighting highlights the action on stage and Justin Been’s sound design is fast-paced and evocative of the frenzied happenings in Gotham.

    Stray Dog’s production of “As Bees in Honey Drown” is a delicious concoction that effectively blends good writing, insightful direction and accomplished acting for a tasty holiday treat.

Rating:    A 4.5. on a scale of 1-to-5.