As Bees in Honey Drown is a comedy about the pitfalls of the unquenchable hunger for fame. Eager almost-famous painters, singers, musicians, business managers, and, of course, authors—the occupation of the protagonist of this play—are displayed as easily trapped victims of con artists who promise big, but empty, dreams.
The play opened in New York City at the Drama Department (where playwright Douglas Carter Beane is the cofounder and artistic director) on June 19, 1997. But four weeks later, the play moved to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, where it played for a year and earned Beane the prestigious Outer Critics Circle John Gassner playwriting award (1998) and a nomination for the Drama Desk Best Play. Most critics concur that As Bees in Honey Drown is Beane’s best play to date. Audiences seem to agree, as the play continues to travel around the United States, playing in most major cities as well as on many college campuses.
According to Stefan Kanfer, for the New Leader, much has been written in literature about con artists. But most of the con artists previously depicted have been men. Beane, however, has concocted a female version, which Kanfer describes as a ‘‘postmodern lady no better than she has to be, in a world considerably worse than it ought to be.’’ Her name is Alexa Vere de Vere. And although Evan Wyler, an author and the alter ego of the playwright, is the protagonist of this play, Alexa is the focal point. She is pretty, intelligent, and creative. But she is also very crooked. However, she would not be as successful as she is if so many people were not so willing to take the shortcut to fame and fortune that she offers them. And that is the hub around which this play revolves.
Act 1, Life
Beane’s play As Bees in Honey Drown opens with the main character, Evan Wyler, in a photographer’s studio, having his picture taken for a magazine promotion of his first novel. The photographer convinces Evan that the way to sell his novel is for Evan to remove his shirt. Although Evan hesitates, in the end, it is this half-nude photograph that is published. It is also this photograph that attracts the attention of Alexa Vere de Vere, who appears in the next scene, wining and dining Evan.
Alexa is not only beautiful to look at, she is also very flashy. She throws high profile names around almost as readily as she spends cash. She flatters Evan as they eat lunch and cajoles him into working with her, writing the story of her life. She also carefully choreographs an image of herself as being well endowed financially but in great need of assistance with almost every other aspect of her life. She also makes huge promises, which catches Evan, who dreams of money and fame. He is also taken in by her neediness.
Scene 3 opens inside the dressing room of a swanky department store. Evan is being assisted by a clerk named Ronald. Alexa whisks in and out of the room, bringing new accessories with her and stopping briefly to admire how good Evan looks in his new suit. As Evan is distracted, Alexa also shops for herself. When it comes time to pay, she asks Evan, as she had previously asked him in the restaurant, to pay for everything with his credit card. She will, she promises, repay him in cash, as she did in the restaurant. Only this time, in the confusion she has intentionally caused, she starts to hand Evan the money, then, while he is not looking, Alexa stuffs the money back into her own pocket. She does this, however, only after giving Ronald some of the loose bills. Ronald is part of Alexa’s con. He promotes her while Evan is dressing, dropping tidbits of information about how much Alexa has helped other almost-famous personalities become bright and successful stars. Then, Alexa rushes Evan out of the department store before he has time to think or remember that he has not yet been reimbursed for the credit card charges that he just signed for.
In the next scene, Alexa tells Evan, while they drive in a limousine, that she has lived an extraordinary life that needs to be recorded. She believes that her life will make a great movie. She is too busy to write it because she is so involved in living it. So she asks Evan to write it for her. As she begins relating details, Evan struggles to make sense of it all. He even, at one point, questions the veracity of her story. She mentions events that could only have happened before she was born. Alexa slips away from this confrontation by stating that she is only adding dramatic effect.
The scene becomes very distracting again as more people enter. Swen, a male model, Skunk, a rock star, and his backup singers join the couple in the limousine as they head for a very hip nightclub. Alexa dominates the conversation and continually drops the names of famous people. She consciously builds her image until she is seen as bigger than life. As they are sitting in the nightclub, a so-called friend of Alexa’s, Carla, makes a brief appearance. Carla collaborates and reinforces Alexa’s makebelieve role as maker of rising stars. Carla pretends to be interested in promoting Evan herself. Alexa insists that Evan is her find, and she will take care of his future.
Scene 5 takes place on the Staten Island Ferry. Alexa and Evan are alone. Alexa further enhances the fantasy of Evan’s future. ‘‘You’re not the person you were born,’’ Alexa tells Evan. ‘‘Who wonderful is? You’re the person you were meant to be.’’ Alexa asks about Evan’s background in this scene and after he tells her about it, she has him throw his old clothes into the water, as he says good-bye to his old self.
Evan and Alexa are in a bedroom at the Hotel Royalton in scene 6. Evan is unsuccessfully attempting to write the story of Alexa’s life. He tells her that he is not the kind of writer who can easily see into other...
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