by Douglas Carter Beane
The Footlight Players - Charleston, South Carolina
March 2003

As Bees in Honey Drown a comedy with an edge


Post & Courier Reviewer 03/07/03

“Fame without achievement is the safest bet I know,” says Alexa Vere de Vere, a first-class con artist in As Bees in Honey Drown, an edgy comedy by Douglas Carter Beane, which opened Thursday at the Footlight Players.

With a high-tech set all in black designed by Richard Heffner, the mood is established for the buzz and hype of A-list gallery openings in contemporary Manhattan. Playwright Beane makes the point that image often takes precedent over substance and has as his flashy example the character of Alexa, dynamically played by Libby Campbell.

As the play opens, we see Alexa, a self-described record producer, having a breakfast meeting with writer Evan Wyler, who has just had his first novel published; a national magazine has named him as a hot, new up-and-comer. Alexa tells him she wants him to write a screenplay about her fascinating life, which she then will pitch to Hollywood. To show that she is serious about her offer, she puts $1,000 cash in his palm.

As she takes Evan, who is gay, under her wing, he confides in her the pain he felt at the loss of his first real love.

She sympathizes and they cuddle, as they drink champagne straight from the bottle on the Staten Island Ferry at 2 a.m.

Just as Evan is drawn into Alexa’s life, we are drawn into this self-assured play electrically directed by Steve Lepre, despite the fact the first act lags a bit. The second act, however, pulls out all the stops as the furious writer, now out $15,000, traces Alexa’s past and is astonished at what he finds.

In the role of Alexa, Campbell takes command of the stage.

As the young writer, Michael Fuller was convincing in his naivete, and Rob Duren was hilarious as a record company executive who also was burned by Alexa.

Liz Brion shone in her multi-roles from photo assistant to snobby gallery visitor. Jeff Craver was well-cast for the part of the gay artist Mike, Alexa’s first roommate.

“You have no power; you are a commodity bought and sold,” Alexa warns Evan. To see if you agree, go see this sparkling, but forthright play.

​​Footlight play ‘Bees’ has sting

The Post & Courier 03/16/03

There’s a thin line separating cynicism from out-and-out bitterness. As Bees in Honey Drown balances on that line with the precision and certainty of a tightrope-walking Wallenda. In fact, it’s hard to think of a play better endowed with wit, repartee and sly sophistication.

The play is by Douglas Carter Beane, whom you may remember from a movie he wrote a few years back. The movie was preposterously named To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and had Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo as a trio of warmhearted drag queens stranded in a redneck town en route to Hollywood. It wasn’t a movie for everybody, but it had its fans, and I was one of them.

Bees dates from 1998 and tracks the adventures of one Brenda Gelb, a go-getter waitress from Reading, Pa. Brenda has a platonic boyfriend named Mike who is gay and who paints, and so she determines to promote him into a Star. Brenda bones up on old videos of Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame, then morphs herself into “Alexa Vere de Vere,” a long-legged, fast-talking icon of high camp.

Like Eliza Doolittle, “Alexa” learns that the secret to success is language. Explains boyfriend Mike, “She’d say, ‘Are you going to the drugstore?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m about to pop off to the chemists.’ Brenda took to Alexa Vere de Vere like a flame to oil.”
Brenda rapidly discovers the greed that drives wannabe celebrities. She begins trawling the gossip publications for hot, new talents, then goes after those talents with promises of fame and fortune. Before long, she has become a scam artist raking in something like $15,000 a week.

But it’s hard not to love Alexa Vere de Vere, at least from across the footlights. After all, Alexa’s victims are blinded by greed and ambition, and they’re spoiling for a plucking. When it comes to colorful larceny, Alexa is right up there with Max Bialystock (The Producers), Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can), Starbuck (The Rainmaker) and Ferdinand Demara (immortalized by Tony Curtis in The Great Pretender). I can think of no comparably famous female scam artist, though the one played by Lindsay Crouse in David Mamet’s 1987 film House of Games is worth mentioning.

The Footlight Players production of As Bees in Honey Drown is directed by Steve Lepre, who specializes in this sort of brittle, amusing, tough-hearted drama. He is fortunate in having Libby Campbell as Alexa, for she’s close to perfect. Her voice is loud and dominating, her sense of comic timing is deadly, and she looks ideal, all enamel and high gloss. You believe her, and though you know she’s up to no good, you still find yourself deeding your heart to her. By the end of the play, half of you is rooting for her to come out on top, while your other half is hoping she’s going to get her comeuppance. To the credit of playwright Beane, you’ll get both wishes fulfilled.

I’ve barely mentioned Alexa’s major victim, Evan Wyler, an appealing, young author with the physique of a L’il Abner and the brains of an oyster. Michael Fuller has the looks and the naivete for the role, also a satisfying supply of ferocity when Evan the worm turns into Evan the dragon. As Mike, the artist who created Alexa, Jeff Craver is full of no-nonsense charm, and with his bald head and happy smile, he’s a joy to watch.

Mr. Fuller and Ms. Campbell are unstoppable, as is the play itself. I haven’t had such a good time at Footlight since I performed there myself.



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