Abuzz About Bees

Makeover: Carol Linnea Johnson is a whirlwind of chiffon and glitter as Alexa Vere de Vere, a character playing many characters, in Douglas Carter Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown
Jim Caldwell

Moviegoers might be familiar with Douglas Carter Beane's To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. The film is worth mentioning only because Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown, now playing at the Alley, feels a bit like a trip to the movies. Hugely entertaining, if not terribly deep, the show is a lovely bit of "confection," as one of Carter's characters might say. Wonderfully witty, sly and quick, this fast-lane look at fame and fortune -- and the price paid for such devilish desires -- is filled with beautiful people doing outrageous things. And true to movie-fable form, everyone lives happily ever after.

Evan Wyler (Ty Mayberry) is a young novelist on the brink of success. We meet him as he's posing for his first magazine cover shoot. An innocent, whom the photographer calls "Mr. So Endearing," Evan is in that empty-pocket period, right after his first novel starts selling big but before the money begins rolling in. Enter the beautiful and mysterious Alexa Vere de Vere (Carol Linnea Johnson). She phones Evan, has him meet her at a posh New York restaurant for a "petite déjeuner," and once there stuns him with her endlessly charming prattle.

"If Cheever is dead, you are my favorite living writer," she purrs in an unidentified upper-crust accent. She plucks $1,000 from her pocketbook, plops it into the hungry writer's palm and begs him to write the story of her life. Oh, she adds coyly, would Evan be a dear and put the lunch on his credit card so that she can have some sort of record for her accountant? She hates credit cards, don't you know.


As Bees in Honey Drown

runs through Sunday, May 28, at the Alley's Neuhaus Arena Stage, 615 Texas Avenu

(713)228-8421. $37-$42.

This turn of events requires movie-style suspension of disbelief. For Evan does exactly what she asks without so much as raising an eyebrow. It all goes downhill from there for the young man; Alexa takes the writer for everything he's worth -- and more. It is Evan's lapse of common sense that speaks volumes here. He's willing to sacrifice his integrity and his values just to experience the yummy high life glamorized in the gauzy close-ups of movies and the slick pages of fashion magazines.

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It turns out, of course, that Alexa is nothing more than a facade -- like an old Hollywood soundstage -- nothing more than a collage of carefully pieced-together characters, ranging from the naughty Sally Bowles to the gamine Holly Golightly.

Predictable as the story is, there is something utterly fantastic in the telling of this fable. Beane's clever script is spun into gold by director James Black. Well-known to Alley audiences for his stunning performances on the company's stages, Black makes his directorial debut with this show. There appears to be nothing this man can't do in the theater. Perhaps the single most important move he made was to cast Johnson as the deliciously evil Alexa.

All smoke and mirrors, Johnson's Alexa is a whirlwind of chiffon, glitter and cigarette holders. During the second act we are treated to a journey back in time where we watch a small-town girl named Brenda transform herself into the dynamic scam artist that is Alexa. Johnson's performance is as good as it gets.

The rest of the cast is equally funny. Mayberry's Evan is the quintessential beautiful young novelist. Jamison Stern, Shelley Calene-Black and Todd Waite provide humorous support in the many secondary characters they play, and Kevin Rigdon's minimalist set, in which each place is suggested by a table or a painting, provides the perfect backdrop for this spinning top of energy.

A scrumptious mixture of rich wit, meaty performances and lean, intelligent direction, As Bees in Honey Drown is one the best pieces of entertainment offered anywhere this season, in any medium. -- Lee Williams

As Bees in Honey Drown runs through Sunday, May 28, at the Alley's Neuhaus Arena Stage, 615 Texas Avenue, (713)228-8421. $37-$42.

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