Critical Essay on As Bees in Honey Drown
Beane’s play As Bees in Honey Drown has a female villain who could almost outrank Cruella DeVil from the classic 101 Dalmatians. Although similarly coldhearted, Alexa Vere de Vere, however, is not quite as flat a character as Cruella. The 101 Dalmatians villain is a stereotypical character who represents evil personified. She has, in other words, no saving graces. Beane’s Alexa Vere de Vere, in contrast, is more real, more complex, or to put it more simply, she is more human. And when looked at even more closely, she is not very different from her fellow characters in the play, her so-called victims.
One of the first things about Alexa that stands out is that she is hungry for money and fame. She waves cash in front of her victims’ faces and drops names of the rich and famous as if she knew all of them on an intimate basis. This illusion is just that— a fantasy—but it is an image that her victims want to see. They want to believe in her because they are, after all, just as hungry for money and fame as she is. How else could they be so easily duped? They all either want to be her closest friend and best ally or they dream of being just like her. They desire the life she portrays. They want to have so much money they can be as careless as she is with it. They would like to go to ridiculously fancy department stores and buy clothes that make them look better; clothes that shout out: this person has made it to the top; this person is ‘‘in’’; this person is someone everyone else wants to know. And in this way, Alexa’s victims are not so different from her. Their dreams mirror one another. They are all fascinated with the same superficial image.
But then, one could counter this statement by demonstrating that Alexa’s victims are not like her at all. They are imaginative artists who dig down deep into themselves in order to create something new and marvelous. They are managers of corporations who stay at the office until late at night, sorting through complex negotiations. They are hardworking business people who sweat over their books and struggle to make a decent profit. They are musicians who practice their instruments until their bodies ache. Alexa’s life, on the other hand, is easy. But is it? Is it so easy to pull off the image that Alexa has created? Isn’t she playing a role like any actress on stage? And isn’t she doing such a good job of it that she convinces her victims that she is sweet and innocent and in need of help and protection? She is, by looking at her in a completely objective and nonjudgmental way, doing so well at her art, she should be awarded a prize. And in many ways she is. Her victims’ give her money. But that is dishonest, right? That makes her a liar and a fake, which is in stark contrast to her victims, who practice complete honesty.
Honesty? What honesty? Is it honest to try to sell books by attracting readers through a photograph of your half-naked body as Evan did? And in an attempt to sell her CDs, Ginny, the violinist, also bared her chest. Alexa changed her name from Brenda Gelb to the more exotic Alexa Vere de Vere. And therefore, this name, in some ways, is fraudulent, right? But Evan changed his name too. He wanted to mask his Jewish heritage by changing his last name from Wollenstein to Wyler. Then, for some whimsical linguistic reason, he changed his first name too. And in another bit of dishonesty, Michael Stabinsky, Alexa’s former live-in friend, allowed Alexa to create a grand illusion around him that persuaded potential customers that he was a soon-to-be famous artist. He permitted this illusion in order to sell his paintings. One could say that Alexa duped Michael’s customers. But don’t forget that Michael agreed to let her to do so; and he reaped the benefits. So who is really being honest? Or, at least, who is more honest than Alexa? Does honesty come in degrees? Granted, Alexa goes overboard in her debauchery. She has no sense of remorse. And there is little social worth in the art she creates. But she is not the only dishonest character in this play.
There are other traits of Alexa’s that reverberate in some of the other characters, especially Evan. Take Alexa’s neediness. In act 1, scene 4, while Alexa, Evan, Skunk, and Swen are in the restaurant, Alexa claims she is about to have a nervous breakdown. She becomes distracted and jittery. Granted, her so-called breakdown is an overstatement that is precipitated by Alexa’s need to feign helplessness. Part of her ploy is to appear needy so that her victims want to come to her rescue and do whatever she asks of them—like pay for her dinners, clothes, rooms, etc. But her need is nonetheless real. She, like her victims, feels needy. She needs the people she cons in order for her work to exist; and later an even...
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