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The Birds and the Bees

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 10, 2016
The Birds and the Bees

Sleeping Weazel's "the birds and the bees" is subtitled "a festival of new plays." A further subtitle might clarify even more that these are plays by Boston-area playwrights. A further nuance is that each of these three selections is written by a female author.

If all that sounds pretty specific, don't worry; there's plenty of room for mystery and interpretation, more so as the program continues.

In the Kate Snodgrass-written "The Last Bark," longtime stalwart of Boston stages Steven Barkhimer more or less (we think) plays himself, throwing himself onto the couch of a psychiatrist friend named Kate (Snodgrass) and complaining about the life he leads as an actor. He's poor, he feels unattractive, the play he's currently rehearsing is terrible, and he knows full well that he bores everybody with his constant complaints. It's a free session offered out of friendship and concern, but even so Kate has abandoned all pretense of professionalism, mocking him with a Sigmund Freud disguise, breaking out booze, and interrupting their session with an ongoing text message feud.

Kate's odd behavior makes a little more sense when she explains something that Bark, in his latest fit of depression, has managed not to hear about: A comet is due to strike the Earth that very evening, eradicating life on a planetary scale. Do his problems still matter in the face of imminent destruction? To him, they certainly do; to us, watching the play unfold, the metaphor is stark. How much do our petty gripes and unfulfilled minor ambitions add up to given the sheer magnitude of environmental and climate-related catastrophes we're unleashing upon ourselves in slow motion? Director Melia Bensussen mines black humor from this short stroll through the conceptual graveyard.

Adara Meyers' "Birds" features Barkhimer in a different role, that of an autocratic teacher at a school called "The American Institute for Stress." His best student is a bird-watching rebel named Toby (Alexander Rankine) whose adolescent propensity for questioning authority is shared by his girlfriend Rose (Julia Alvarez). They are the class standouts: The other students (Mara Palma, Sam Terry, and Louise Hamill) are so uniform in their malice and submission to the teacher that they are labeled by numbers. Their seething hatred and contempt for Toby is all the scarier once they dub themselves "the cops" and start kicking in doors and getting physically rough. "Birds" is a quick, concrete study in the social mechanics of fascism -- and in the current election cycle, it reads like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Shana Gozansky directs.

The strangest and most broadly symbolic play follows up. "Beesus & Ballustrada," written by Charlotte Meehan and directed by Bensussen, is set in a fantastical take on the natural world in which two elemental beings -- gods, maybe? -- engage in a protracted and edgy courtship. Beesus (Cliff Odle) is somehow "in charge of" the world's birds, and we're not necessarily talking about the nice chirpy kind. "Maybe I should kill you," Beesus growls at Ballutrada (Karen MacDonald), who is "in charge of" the world's squirrels. A bout of lovemaking is framed by such tender sentiments from both sides, but there's also a protective vibe between the two that plays out rather sweetly.

The three plays share some general scenic design by Mirta Tocci, with generic-looking labels on the floor that specify AUDIENCE, CHAIR, and CHAIS, and strangely inverted hanging plants that look like a flock of flying octopuses. There's also a corner of the room that is dressed as a mini jungle -- perfect for the birder in the second play and the animal spirits of the third.

Bridget K. Doyle accomplishes some atmospheric lighting effects, and Oliver Seagle handles the sound design.

Looking for theater that's going to take you to impossible places and ask you questions that will chase through your head instead of lying there panting and looking bored? This is the place to be!


"The Birds and the Bees" plays through June 11 at the BCA. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.sleepingweazel.com

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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