punkplay by Gregory Moss produced by Capital T Theatre
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The Bird and The Bee earn a rave review from the Austin American-Statesman

26 January 2009

Review:  The Bird and The Bee

The Bird and The Bee is essentially two very good plays within one great production.

The Bird, by Al Smith, and The Bee, by Matt Hartley, were originally staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as two separate offerings, giving audiences the chance to view them a la carte or take in the double billing. In Capital T Theatre’s new take, it’s hard to imagine them apart.

Each play tells the story of a different teenager and how they came to meet, fall in love, and die. In The Bee, Chloe, played by Tayler Gill, weathers the death of her brother in a traffic accident and is confronted by the insincerity of her friends and neighbors mourning. While Gill stands silent, lost in her own feelings, her fame-seeking friend Hannah, played to comically loathsome hyperbole by Melissa Recalde, sets up a virtual memorial, trite pop songs and all.

In The Bird, we meet Jakob, who appears only as a silent figure on the other end of Chloe’s instant messages in The Bee While his looming presence there makes him seem a predator taking advantage of Chloe’s suburban discontent, we soon find out that the poor teen’s life is in a whole new category of misery. The crippled son of an immigrant Russian prostitute, Jakob’s only father figure is a teacher who quickly chooses to become a John instead of an inspiration. And yet Jakob remains, for the most part, hopeful and romantic.

I won’t give away the rather dramatic plot revelation that ties the two pieces irrevocably together, but it certainly makes viewing them individually hard to understand. The playwrights add in other little motifs and themes that run across both works, but the more impressive connections are brought out by director Kelli Bland.

The Bee is a quiet, bitterly comic play. Chloe is precocious and naive and prone to ruminating on the nature of public and private spaces, online and off. It’s a work of sweet, subtle connections, with conversations between a drawn-in Gill and her brother, friends, and silent Jakob filling the time.

The Bird, however, is largely a monologue by Jakob, played here by Chase Wooldridge giving the best performance that I’ve seen from him. As Jakob relates his life story, he begins with a child’s magical perspective on the world: the clothes left behind by his mother’s visitors are relics of ghosts, the bees in an ever-expanding hive reminiscent of their spirits. The narrative builds like a sad fairy tale until, in a burst of rage, Wooldrige explodes on the ghosts, trying to stop their visits and save his mother. It’s portentous, but disquieting in its own sudden transition.

That switch is the key to the two plays that Bland and her talented ensemble have found to unlock their strengths. On its own, each play is poignant and well executed. As a dual offering, they take on a new tenor of both beauty and horror.The Bee strings out the audience’s tension as Gill goes through an arc of ennui to happiness even while the play itself grows tragic. While the cast wrings out all the comedy they can from the horrible townspeople, it can still be a slow build, focusing more on thoughts than actions. That it’s punctuated by the gut punch of The Bird, though, makes it a perfect prelude and the pair a wonderful, if emotionally exhausting, combination.

(The Bird and The Bee continues at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 and at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale Road. $10. 479-PLAY, fronterafest.org)

Joey Seiler is an American-Statesman freelance theater critic.