Reviewed by Judd Hollander
What if you knew exactly how your life was going to turn out, and there was absolutely nothing you could do to change it? One woman finds herself in exactly that situation in Bruce Norris' rather intriguing, but ultimately unfulfilling A Parallelogram at Second Stage Theater.
Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger) is a person with a self-destructive streak. Currently living with Jay (Stephen Kunken), she's continually trying to find proof that their relationship is not working out. Thus providing her a reason to end things between them before Jay ends them first. That Jay left his wife and family to be with her only adds to Bee's feeling of insecurity. Adding to her pile of possibly imagined woes is the continual presence of an older woman - referred to in the program as "Bee 2" - (Anita Gillette), that only Bee can see. This cynical and world-weary soul claiming to be a future version of Bee; and who has very few words of comfort to offer about Bee's current situation, or any of her situations still to come.
Bee's relationship with her doppelganger is further complicated by the fact that although no one else can see her, her presence can be felt in other ways. Such as with traces of the elder woman's cigarette smoke. Visible due to what B2 describes as a "glitch" in the system which allows her to be there in the first place. Jay reacting angrily to Bee's denials of smoking, while Bee 2, who is clearly enjoying her younger self's discomfort, watches the entire exchange with a self-satisfied grin.
As quickly becomes evident, what one is seeing is the virtual train wreck Bee's life is fast becoming. To that end, it's not long before Bee finds herself starting to fulfill some of her elder's prophecies. Such as taking up smoking, or putting on weight. Bee's inability to accept anything but the worst possible outcome, also causing her to sabotage various chances she may have of finding happiness. Though that doesn't stop her from continually going back in time to try to make things better. This accomplished with the help of B2, who is able to generate a sort of "Groundhog Day" effect, with different scenes playing out over and over again as Bee tries to alter what has gone before.
Underlying all the "doom and gloom" Bee is facing, both now and in times to come, is Norris' idea that while one cannot change the future in any overall sense, one can subtly alter certain circumstances to make the end result more hopeful. Coupled with this is the unspoken question: do we really want to know our own personal future?
An intriguing idea to be sure, especially when the play starts to explore the relative fluidity of time, and how the future may have actually already happened. Sadly, any possible appeal of this premise collapses almost immediately due to the way the show's narrative is structured. Bee vehemently declaring in one scene that she will not allow certain aspects of her future to occur, and then accepting them in the very next, with no explanation of what has caused this change in attitude.
A far more serious problem is that the play never shows Bee's initial meeting with her future self. Bee 2 already present, with Bee having accepted who she is and what she represents, by the time the show begins. As such, the audience never learns why the elder Bee decided to visit the younger version of herself in the first place. Other than that she seems to enjoy tormenting her. In truth, when it comes to either character, there is no real depth present. This then makes it extremely hard to care about them, or be concerned when it comes to their final fate. This is particularly true when it comes to Gillette's character, who ends up being more annoying than anything else.
Most problematic of all is when Bee finally does understand the ultimate truth of what Morris has been trying to say, the realization comes far too late to be effective. The work having basically meandered for more than two hours without any firm direction. Matters aren't helped by the lackluster work of director Michael Greif, who takes the few interesting elements the show has to offer and does nothing with them. A good case in point being the various repeating scenes, all of which come to feel tiresome and repetitive very quickly.
Despite all the obstacles, Keenan-Bolger is able to project an appealing quality as Bee. The actress doing the best she can with a part that goes nowhere. Kunken comes off well as Jay, his character the only one that is ever anything more than one-dimensional. He giving a very good performance as a man trying desperately to understand Bee's increasingly odd behavior; and finally finding refuge in medical science rather than other, more intangible possibilities. Juan Castano is okay as JJ, a fellow who comes over to Bee and Jay's apartment complex to cut the grass and never quite leaves. However, it's a role that's strictly superficial, and as such, not all that interesting.
Lighting design by Kenneth Posner and sound design by Matt Tierney work nicely together, particularly when they're used to herald the resetting of the various scenes for Bee to try to change the past. Set design by Rachel Hauck is okay.
A Parallelogram is not so much a particularly bad play, but rather one that feels somewhat unfinished, and with an ending that just doesn't work.
Featuring: Stephen Kunken (Jay), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Bee), Anita Gillette (Bee 2, Bee 3, Bee 4), Juan Castano (JJ).
by Bruce Norris
Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck
Costume Design: Jeff Mahshie
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Matt Tierney
Animal Trainer: William Berloni
Production Stage Manager: Jane Grey
Stage Manager: Shae Candelaria
Press: Polk & Co.
Casting: Telsey & Company/Will Cantler
Casl CSA/Adam Caldwell CSA
Associate Artistic Director: Christopher Burney
Production Manager: Bethany Weinstein
General Manager: Seth Shepsle
Directed by Michael Greif
Presented by Second Stage Theater
Tickets: 212-246-4422 or https://2st.com
Running Time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes, one intermission