A Critical Analysis of Douglas Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown

A Critical Analysis of Douglas Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown

As Bees in Honey Drown is a comedy about the pitfalls of the unquenchable hunger for fame. Eager almost-famous painters, singers, musicians, business managers, and, of course, authors—the occupation of the protagonist of this play—are displayed as easily trapped victims of con artists who promise big, but empty, dreams.

The play opened in New York City at the Drama Department (where playwright Douglas Carter Beane is the cofounder and artistic director) on June 19, 1997. But four weeks later, the play moved to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village, where it played for a year and earned Beane the prestigious Outer Critics Circle John Gassner playwriting award (1998) and a nomination for the Drama Desk Best Play. Most critics concur that As Bees in Honey Drown is Beane’s best play to date. Audiences seem to agree, as the play continues to travel around the United States, playing in most major cities as well as on many college campuses.

As Bees in Honey Drown

According to Stefan Kanfer, for the New Leader, much has been written in literature about con artists. But most of the con artists previously depicted have been men. Beane, however, has concocted a female version, which Kanfer describes as a ‘‘postmodern lady no better than she has to be, in a world considerably worse than it ought to be.’’ Her name is Alexa Vere de Vere. And although Evan Wyler, an author and the alter ego of the playwright, is the protagonist of this play, Alexa is the focal point. She is pretty, intelligent, and creative. But she is also very crooked. However, she would not be as successful as she is if so many people were not so willing to take the shortcut to fame and fortune that she offers them. And that is the hub around which this play revolves.

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Author Biography

Douglas Carter Beane has stated that his first and foremost passion is theatre. He has written and directed numerous plays and is the co-founder and artistic director of an avant-guard theatre group in New York called the Drama Department. But, Beane has not limited his writing experiences to live performance plays. He is also a screenwriter, having written his first movie script while he was babysitting for some friends. Beane is also working on a script for a television series.

Beane has won many awards, but his As Bees in Honey Drown (1997) gathered the most praise. It was an off-Broadway hit that won the 1998 Outer Critics Circle John Gassner playwriting award and garnered a nomination for the Drama Desk Best Play. Most critics refer to As Bees in Honey Drown as Beane’s best work.

Some of Beane’s other plays include The Country Club (1999); Advice from a Caterpillar (1999), which was made into a movie the same year and won an award for the best film at the Aspen Comedy Festival; Music from a Sparkling Planet (2001); Mondo Drama (2003); and the musical comedies The Big Time (2004) and soon to be produced Lysistrata Jones.

In 1995, Beane took a break from theatre and wrote the screenplay To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, which starred Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, who play drag queens. In the works is another movie written by Beane called How Life Is and a 2005 release called Bewitched.

Plot Summary

Act 1, Life

Beane’s play As Bees in Honey Drown opens with the main character, Evan Wyler, in a photographer’s studio, having his picture taken for a magazine promotion of his first novel. The photographer convinces Evan that the way to sell his novel is for Evan to remove his shirt. Although Evan hesitates, in the end, it is this half-nude photograph that is published. It is also this photograph that attracts the attention of Alexa Vere de Vere, who appears in the next scene, wining and dining Evan.

Alexa is not only beautiful to look at, she is also very flashy. She throws high profile names around almost as readily as she spends cash. She flatters Evan as they eat lunch and cajoles him into working with her, writing the story of her life. She also carefully choreographs an image of herself as being well endowed financially but in great need of assistance with almost every other aspect of her life. She also makes huge promises, which catches Evan, who dreams of money and fame. He is also taken in by her neediness.

Scene 3 opens inside the dressing room of a swanky department store. Evan is being assisted by a clerk named Ronald. Alexa whisks in and out of the room, bringing new accessories with her and stopping briefly to admire how good Evan looks in his new suit. As Evan is distracted, Alexa also shops for herself. When it comes time to pay, she asks Evan, as she had previously asked him in the restaurant, to pay for everything with his credit card. She will, she promises, repay him in cash, as she did in the restaurant. Only this time, in the confusion she has intentionally caused, she starts to hand Evan the money, then, while he is not looking, Alexa stuffs the money back into her own pocket. She does this, however, only after giving Ronald some of the loose bills. Ronald is part of Alexa’s con. He promotes her while Evan is dressing, dropping tidbits of information about how much Alexa has helped other almost-famous personalities become bright and successful stars. Then, Alexa rushes Evan out of the department store before he has time to think or remember that he has not yet been reimbursed for the credit card charges that he just signed for.

In the next scene, Alexa tells Evan, while they drive in a limousine, that she has lived an extraordinary life that needs to be recorded. She believes that her life will make a great movie. She is too busy to write it because she is so involved in living it. So she asks Evan to write it for her. As she begins relating details, Evan struggles to make sense of it all. He even, at one point, questions the veracity of her story. She mentions events that could only have happened before she was born. Alexa slips away from this confrontation by stating that she is only adding dramatic effect.

The scene becomes very distracting again as more people enter. Swen, a male model, Skunk, a rock star, and his backup singers join the couple in the limousine as they head for a very hip nightclub. Alexa dominates the conversation and continually drops the names of famous people. She consciously builds her image until she is seen as bigger than life. As they are sitting in the nightclub, a so-called friend of Alexa’s, Carla, makes a brief appearance. Carla collaborates and reinforces Alexa’s make-believe role as maker of rising stars. Carla pretends to be interested in promoting Evan herself. Alexa insists that Evan is her find, and she will take care of his future.

Scene 5 takes place on the Staten Island Ferry. Alexa and Evan are alone. Alexa further enhances the fantasy of Evan’s future. ‘‘You’re not the person you were born,’’ Alexa tells Evan. ‘‘Who wonderful is? You’re the person you were meant to be.’’ Alexa asks about Evan’s background in this scene and after he tells her about it, she has him throw his old clothes into the water, as he says good-bye to his old self.

Evan and Alexa are in a bedroom at the Hotel Royalton in scene 6. Evan is unsuccessfully attempting to write the story of Alexa’s life. He tells her that he is not the kind of writer who can easily see into other people’s heads and understand the motivations behind their actions. He asks Alexa more probing questions to help him understand her past. Alexa gives in and tells him about how her husband committed suicide. This draws Evan even closer to her, especially when Alexa states that she is nothing and is unworthy of love. Shortly after this, Evan, a homosexual, makes love to Alexa and tells her that he loves her.

Evan gets beaten up in scene 7 by Skunk, the rock star. Skunk has discovered that Alexa is not going to pay him money she has promised him. Skunk believes that Evan is in on the swindle and punches him mercilessly. He calls Evan a grifter, which is another word for a con man. In the following scene, Evan is on the phone. He is bleeding and confused and trying to get a hold of Morris Kaden, an executive at Delta Records, where Alexa has told Evan she is a manager. When Kaden’s secretary hangs up on him, stating that she has never heard of Alexa, Evan calls the hotel where he was last with her. The hotel clerk tells Evan that Alexa has checked out. The clerk also informs Evan that there is an outstanding bill that Alexa has said Evan will pay. Act 1 ends with Evan crying out: ‘‘It isn’t true. It isn’t true, isn’t true!’’

Act 2, Art

Scene 1 is very brief. The audience watches Alexa begin her con with yet another victim. Then scene 2 quickly takes over, in which Evan, still bleeding, enters Morris Kaden’s office. When Evan mentions Alexa’s name, Kaden takes Evan into his private office, where he tells Evan everything he knows about her. Morris was once a victim of Alexa’s too. He tells Evan to forget about the incident, to accept it as a very serious lesson. As Morris talks, a vision of Alexa from the past seeps through. She is using the same lines on Evan that she has used on everyone else, and Evan realizes how badly he has been taken by her.

‘‘Doesn’t anyone ever get her back?’’ Evan asks Morris. ‘‘Most people have lives,’’ Morris answers. But Evan wants revenge. Morris provides a few leads as Evan hopes to track down Alexa.

In scene 3, Evan is on the phone talking to a dancer named Illya Mannon, who confesses she too was conned by Alexa. Illya gives Evan a few more names of victims, including Michael Stabinsky, whom Evan contacts and makes arrangements to meet.

The next scene takes place in Michael’s studio/ loft. The two men, in the course of their discussion about Alexa, discover they are both homosexual, and there is a bit of sexual tension displayed between them. As they talk, Michael fills out the true background of Alexa, including her real name, which is Brenda Gelb, and how she started her con game when she helped Michael, who is a painter, sell some of his work. The one piece that did not sell, Michael confides, is the one he calls As Bees in Honey Drown.

As Evan is about to leave Michael’s loft, scene 5 bleeds into the present, and the audience watches a young violinist, Ginny Cameron, who is being persuaded by a photographer to pose half-naked for a shot that will be used in a magazine to promote her. Ginny is then seen talking to Alexa, who wants to meet with her. Next, Ginny is on the phone with Evan, who finds out that Ginny is scheduled to meet Alexa at the Four Seasons restaurant. Evan then plans his revenge. Evan calls Morris, Skunk, Illya, and several others, all of them Alexa’s victims. He tells them to gather at the Four Seasons where he hopes Alexa will appear.

In scene 6, Evan returns to his apartment and listens to his telephone messages. He hears the voices of some of the people who plan to meet at the restaurant. The last voice he hears is that of Ginny, who tells Evan that she made a mistake and told Alexa about Evan’s plan of revenge. As he turns, Evan sees that Alexa is standing in his apartment. She tells Evan that he is very much like her and he should join her in her escapades. They would make a great team. She tries to convince him that the life of a writer is really very boring. She kisses Evan. He tells her that he has talked to Michael and tells Alexa to leave. She says he is not a good writer. He tells her that he does not need her.

The revenge party at the Four Seasons went on even though Alexa was missing. In scene 7, Illya and Morris give an accounting of how great the get-together was.

Scene 8 takes place in Michael’s loft. They talk about art. Evan feels lost. He has lost his muse. Michael is still very much involved in painting. Michael gives Evan the notebook Evan left at Michael’s place the last time he visited. The book is filled with notes that Evan took throughout his encounters with Alexa.

Scene 9 begins with a dialog between unnamed muses. They mimic bits of conversation that took place between Evan and Alexa. Michael appears briefly, suggesting that Evan and he have developed a relationship and are living together. Evan is writing. As he continues to write, Alexa appears in Morris’s office. She is angry about having just seen Evan’s new book, in which Evan has recounted their affair. Alexa wants to sue Evan. Illya appears, reading Evan’s book. She reads some of the lines out loud. Then, Evan joins her and so does Morris.


Ginny Cameron

A young violinist, Ginny is first seen in a photographer’s studio, similar to the first scene of the play in which Evan is being photographed. Ginny is naked from the waist up (also similar to Evan’s scene), and the photographer convinces her that her photograph in a magazine will bring her recognition. Shortly afterwards, Alexa calls Ginny because she has seen her picture. Evan uses Ginny to help set up his revenge, but Ginny warns Alexa before the damage is done.


Carla makes a very brief appearance in act 1, while Alexa and Evan visit a posh nightclub. Carla comes across as an old friend of Alexa’s and substantiates Alexa’s contrived background, making Evan believe Alexa’s story more fully. Obviously, Carla is in cahoots with Alexa’s scheme.

Brenda Gelb

See Alexa Vere de Vere

Morris Kaden

Alexa claims to work for Morris Kaden, an executive at Delta Records. But later, when Evan goes to Kaden to see if he can help track down Alexa, Evan learns that Morris too has been one of Alexa’s victims. Morris tells Evan to let go of the experience. He suggests that Evan consider the money he has lost as tuition in the school of life.

Illya Mannon

A dancer and also a victim of Alexa’s, Illya provides Evan with yet another possible lead in how to find Alexa.


Ronald is a clerk in a department store. He helps Evan try on a suit, as Alexa picks out ties, shoes, and perfume for Evan. Ronald is in on Alexa’s con job. He promotes her, offering an authentic-sounding background for Alexa in which he alludes to other up-and-coming stars whom she has helped.


Skunk is a rock singer from London. Like Evan, Skunk is duped by Alexa. Unfortunately for Evan, Skunk believes that Evan is Alexa’s accomplice and beats him up.

Michael Stabinsky

Michael is a painter and the only person in the play who knew Alexa Vere de Vere when she was still Brenda Gelb. Although Michael benefited from an artist showing that Brenda/Alexa put together for his benefit, Michael did not appreciate how she conned everyone into coming to the show and buying his paintings. When Evan hunts down Michael in order to find out about Alexa, Michael flirts with Evan and suggests that they try out a relationship between themselves. The character of Michael is used to clear up the mystery of Alexa as well as to provide the antithesis of Alexa for Evan’s sake. As Evan wonders about his sexuality, he is presented with the choice of a heterosexual relationship with Alexa or a homosexual one with Michael. Michael also contrasts with Alexa in his open-faced honesty and sincerity.


While Alexa dictates the story of her life to Evan in a limousine, they stop and pick up Swen, a male model who barely speaks English.

Bethany Vance

Alexa refers to Bethany as an alleged actress who was also a masochist. Alexa uses the story of Bethany to suggest that love is painful. Bethany was also conned by Alexa, and she provides Evan with some background information that helps his investigation of Alexa.

Alexa Vere de Vere

Alexa is a beautiful con artist (here real name is Brenda Gelb) and is the antagonist of this play. She appears in the beginning of the drama as a well-to-do promoter of artists. She throws a lot of money around and claims that money has no hold on her. She promises great things to people who want to believe in her vision. Unfortunately, except for her ability to inspire, Alexa is a fraud. She is like an angler who baits her hook and tempts a hungry fish with a free meal only to snatch the eager creature out of the water and leave it gasping for oxygen. Her first successful con involves her friend Michael Stabinsky, a painter. And from there, she cons several musical artists and eventually the protagonist Evan Wyler. One positive thing that can be said of Alexa is that she is good at what she does. Her visions are filled with grandeur and passion, and it is through these gifts that she inspires the people around her. She provides the dream but not the means to the dream. And the cost of her vision for her victims is fairly steep. Part of her scheme to entrance her targeted victims is that she pretends to be helpless about many things in her life, a victim herself.

Eric Wollenstein

See Evan Wyler

Evan Wyler

Evan (who changed his name from Eric Wollenstein) is a novelist who acts as the protagonist in this drama. He is looking for fame and fortune at the time he meets Alexa Vere de Vere. Evan enjoys the lavish attention and convincing hype that Alexa pours on him. Eventually, although homosexual, Evan makes love to Alexa and surprises himself when his heart opens up to her. But Alexa is not sincere, and Evan falls hard when he discovers that Alexa is a fraud. He loses a lot of money because he believes in Alexa and her dreams. But he is especially affected by his emotional connection to her. The second part of the play deals with Evan’s attempts at finding the truth about Alexa, if there is any. Although it appears that Evan seeks to avenge the wrath that Alexa has caused, Evan’s real motive is to fit together all the pieces of the puzzle in order to figure out not only the enigma of Alexa but also to discover the truth about himself. Is he an artist? Is he homosexual? Can he love? In the end he discovers that no matter what happens to him, he can turn it into something creative and worthwhile.



The topic of art is discussed rather obliquely and on many different levels in this play. Evan mentions his need to create his art when Alexa tries to lure him into joining her in her con game. Evan also describes the challenges he faces in his specific art form when he is with Michael. Because of what Alexa has done to him, Evan says he has lost the ‘‘arrogance’’ he needs to write. This arrogance is what he needs to believe that he could write something that someone else would be interested in reading. This is a possible allusion, readers can assume, to the playwright’s own challenges. Beane might be implying that unless an artist is creating only to satisfy some inner need to express himself or herself, that level of arrogance has to be rather high. It takes a lot of arrogance, or confidence, to expose the inner workings of one’s mind (as represented by a book, a painting, a play, or a musical performance) to a critical audience made up of mostly strangers.

Art looked at through the eyes of the character Alexa, however, takes on a different image. Alexa sees the production of art as drudgery, with little excitement and a lot of work involved in it. The thrill lasts for but a brief time—at the very beginning of the work and at the ending. And every time artists produce new works, they put their previously earned reputation on the line. They have to prove themselves and their skills over and over again.

Art, through Evan’s eyes, is difficult. He produces his art in an attempt to connect with other people. But he knows that there are people out there who want to criticize what he has written or want to take advantage of his skills, but he does it anyway. Michael, in another version of the artist, wants to be left alone to paint. He works diligently to perfect the small details of his work, e.g., his intense focus on creating an image of a human ear. These men are driven by their art. They would like to be able to make a living from it, but that is not why they do it.

And then, in contrast but also in some comparison, there is the con artist, as represented by Alexa. This is a totally different form of art. It is illegitimate and sometimes illegal. But conning takes special skills and a great deal of arrogance, as does any musical or dramatic performance. And it is a performance. The con artist is an actor whose stage is the public arena. His or her audience is the victim. One would think it was not as fulfilling as creating a work of art, but the con artist might not agree. Alexa believes that art is boring; whereas her con games are thrilling and charged with the pizzazz that every artist craves.

Fame and Fortune

Fame like honey, according to Beane’s play, can give one a rush of sweet pleasure or it can drown one. It is as alluring as a Greek siren, promising allusive treasures. But like the sirens, the voice of fame also can cause disaster. Con artists like Alexa would not exist if people were not so vulnerable to the lure of fame and fortune. How quickly Alexa is able to turn heads in her direction by floating a few loose dollar bills. How easily she is able to blind people with their own desires to be important. And how painfully her victims are burned when they are finally able to see through their own folly. Fame and fortune, Beane seems to be saying, must be earned with hard work and a honing of one’s skills. There are no fairy godmothers out there with magic wands, waiting to grant wishes. One must be focused and be willing to sacrifice. The painter Michael appears to be Beane’s example of the perfected artist. He allows Alexa to promote him somewhat insincerely, but he is the least affected by her claims of fame. Michael works hard at his art. He works alone. His name is not splashed all over the magazines. He is content to work out the details of his art, earn a modest wage, suffer through the disappointments, and celebrate when he is able to express his creativity fully. In contrast, Evan falls for Alexa’s promise of fame. He wants it before he earns it. He pays a heavy price when he discovers how foolish he has been. The price is not just monetary. He nearly sacrifices his art in the ordeal, as he is unable to write for a long time. Beane’s message seems to be that fame and fortune either should be ignored or, in the least, kept in their place. They are not the gods of the arts but rather they are the devils.


Love threads its way through Beane’s play in a number of ways. There is the love of art. There is the love of money. There is the love of fame. But there is also an underlying theme of the love found in a relationship. Evan is at the center of this theme of love. He retells the story of unrequited love with a man in his youth, a love that left him feeling very vulnerable. In the aftermath of that experience, Evan decided not to love again. He had occasional affairs but would not open his heart fully to anyone. But then he falls in love with Alexa, who turns him on his head. He never thought he would love again and surely not a woman. And yet, there he is professing love to her. He is confused by it. And so might be the audience. Does he really love Alexa or does he love what she represents? He wants to be like her in some ways, but is that love? He loves her lifestyle, albeit a phony façade. He loves the way she makes him feel important and special. But that love is short-lived. It is superficial and does not stand the test of time or reality.

In the end, Beane seems to suggest, there might still be a love for Evan. It might come in the person of Michael, a fellow artist, an honest man, someone who understands the challenges that Evan faces. Michael is someone who could be a true friend. It is from this sincere relationship, Beane implies, that true love has a chance of blooming.

Pop Culture

Beane portrays some not-too-attractive pictures of pop culture. For instance, in the scene in Michael’s apartment, Evan admires a painting. It is the painting Michael calls As Bees in Honey Drown. It was the only painting that did not sell when Alexa arranged Michael’s first showing. It was also, according to Michael, the only painting that was finished. In other words, the other paintings he had rushed through and had not completely finished his thoughts on those pieces. They were surface sketches. And yet because of the hype that Alexa created around them, people bought them. Alexa also makes references to a similar misunderstanding of paintings by the general public. She says that there are great works of art being bought by people who live in Hollywood. But the people who buy them have no understanding of them. The inference is that pop culture is very shallow. Alexa says that people want to be entertained; and the leading artists of one moment die quickly only to be replaced by the next hot artist. People want the flash, but they do not take the time to sit down and allow a work of art to penetrate them.



Flashbacks are a construction that is often used in movies, novels, and short stories. It is a technique that allows the author to fill in the background of the characters, which ultimately makes the present moment more complex and more detailed. This gives the audience information they had not been previously aware of. In a play, this construction of flashbacks is a lot more difficult to pull off as the players are in the same present moment as is the audience. So how does a playwright provide background information? Often this is offered in the dialog of the characters, but supplying these details can considerably slow down the pace of the play, which can, in turn, bore the audience. So in As Bees in Honey Drown, Beane employs a different technique to fill in the gaps, to provide clues in order that the audience might solve the mysteries, and to make the audience privilege to some of the characters’ inner thoughts. The technique he uses is flashbacks.

The first time Beane uses flashback is in act 2, scene 2, while Evan is talking to Morris, the executive from Delta Records. Morris begins exposing to Evan the way Alexa cons people, and, rather than having Morris recite these lines, Beane brings Alexa into the scene. Although all three actors are present on the stage at the same time, Evan and Morris are in Morris’s office and Alexa is at the Hotel Paramount. As Morris relates his knowledge of Alexa to Evan, Alexa is playing out a scene she and Evan had previously shared. And some of the lines that Alexa voices are also being stated by Morris, simultaneously. The effect is that of Morris telling Evan about Alexa as Evan recalls those same lines being said to him by Alexa. Since the audience has already heard these lines, it would not be as dramatic if Morris reiterated them to Evan. But with Alexa reading them at the same time as Morris (but off to the side), the words have a more profound emotional impact because the audience can relate to what Evan is going through as he realizes how ignorant he was to have fallen for those lines.

The double reading of the lines not only exposes to Evan the fact that he has been duped but also how he has been conned by Alexa. As Morris and Alexa re-act the various situations that Alexa and Evan had recently shared, Evan (and thus the audience) more explicitly understands how Alexa worked her con. For instance, in flashing back to the scene in the department dressing room, the one in which Alexa is supposedly buying Evan a suit, Evan sees more clearly that the so-called accidental spraying of perfume in his face was actually a ploy to distract him from the fact that Alexa had not given him money to reimburse him for the credit card charges he had placed. The flashbacks are seen in the present, a time when Evan’s mind is clearer. He hears Alexa say things that he had not heard before. Evan had been so involved in the presumed gift giving that he does not pay attention to what Alexa is buying for herself. Only through flashback does he see everything clearly.

Beane uses this technique throughout the play. Another time is in act 2, scene 3, when Evan is searching through the notes he has taken while he was with Alexa. He is looking for clues. But instead of rereading to the audience what he has written in his book, Beane has Evan on the telephone talking to people whom Alexa has mentioned. The audience knows this because there is another flashback of Alexa rereading part of the dialog that she and Evan had previously shared.

There is also an extended flashback, which occurs in act 2, scene 4, when Evan goes to Michael’s loft to talk to him about Alexa. Instead of using a dialog between Michael and Evan to disclose what Michael knows about Alexa, Beane has the actress who plays Alexa play out the scene with Michael. Alexa is made to look like a younger version of herself, a woman who was then going by the name of Brenda Gelb. Michael and Brenda/Alexa act out scenes for Evan and the audience’s benefit, again filling in background material so everyone understands how Brenda became Alexa.

Point of Attack

The point of attack is the place in the play where the real action begins, the action surrounding the conflict. In Beane’s As Bees in Honey Drown, this point is very visible because it occurs at the time when Evan is punched in the face by Skunk. It is, in other words, a physical point of attack, with dramatic flair. Up until the moment when Skunk delivers his punch, the audience is not fully aware that Alexa is a fraud who is duping Evan. The audience is privy to a few hints but is not told in an obvious way that she is conning Evan. When Skunk hits Evan in the face and demands his money, accusing Evan of being in cahoots with Alexa, then the audience’s eyes are opened to the truth.

Most plays begin in a neutral position. In As Bees in Honey Drown, the audience is shown that Evan is eager to find the fame and fortune that he expected would follow the publication of his first novel. Alexa arrives on the scene to help Evan find what he is looking for, or at least that is what Evan and the audience first believe: Evan is a legitimate writer and Alexa is a legitimate maker of dreams. The play from the opening scene until Skunk’s punch is fairly well balanced. Alexa appears to have more power in the realm of the financial world, but Evan has the creative talent that Alexa needs to promote. Each character brings something to each scene in equal measure. But at the point of attack in the play, that balance changes. The tension rises as Evan hunts down Alexa, determined to find out the truth about her life, to expose her faults, to avenge himself, and to return to his art. The point of attack is the beginning of the tension; and the climax is the peak of it. Between these two elements lies the gist of the action of the play.

Historical Context

Off Broadway

Down the middle of the section of New York City where most of the major theatre productions are made runs the street called Broadway. This street is so filled with major theatres that the name Broadway has become synonymous with theatre productions. But Broadway is not the only street in New York where theater-goers enjoy plays and musicals.

In the first half of the twentieth century, small budget plays and musicals could not afford the high costs of these big Broadway theatres, and so the producers looked for smaller, lower-cost places that were located off Broadway. Soon, the theaters in the so-called off-Broadway sections of New York City became home for plays that were considered experimental and therefore not potential big moneymak-ers. In the 1950s, many avant-garde playwrights like Edward Albee and Sam Shepard had their plays produced off Broadway, as did Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter. By the 1990s, when Beane’s production of As Bees in Honey Drown was put on stage, many producers were investing in the off-Broadway districts, and a construction boom of small theaters that held under 500 seats was the result. Today, the difference in cost can be drastic, with an off-Broadway musical costing under $500,000, while a similar musical produced on Broadway might cost more than $1.5 million. Off-Broadway productions even have their own awards. The most significant are the Obies, sponsored by the Village Voice. Today, with the growth and popularity of off-Broadway theater, smaller, cheaper, and more experimental plays have been pushed even further away, with productions housed in districts referred to as off-off-Broadway.

Cultural Icons

In Beane’s play As Bees in Honey Drown, the con artist Alexa constantly drops names of cultural icons. She does this to impress the people around her. In order to understand some of the allusions she makes, the reader needs to know what these names stand for.

David Bowie is a name that Alexa mentions often. Bowie is one of the most influential pop music writers of his time. He struggled through the 1960s with occasional hits, and then in the 1970s enjoyed success not only in his homeland of England but in the United States as well. One of his biggest hits was Fame, a favorite theme of Alexa’s and a topic discussed throughout Beane’s play. Bowie also starred in movies with some success and is presently married to Iman, a supermodel and another name that Alexa mentions.

Theodore Geisel is another name that Alexa refers to. This author of many popular books for children is better known as Dr. Seuss. Most American children from the 1960s onward grew up reading Dr. Seuss’s enjoyable and silly rhymes. His fame and fortune are a dream come true for many authors. Another author that Alexa refers to is Gore Vidal, who has written novels, screenplays, and dramatic pieces for the stage. He has gained some respect in the literary world but was hurt by some scathing reviews when he wrote openly about homosexuality in the 1950s. Christopher Isherwood was also an author and homosexual. He wrote a collection of stories about life in Berlin, which was later turned into the stage production of Cabaret (1966); its main character, Sally Bowles, is another name that Alexa drops. Sally Bowles personified the decadence that was occurring in Berlin while Isherwood lived there. In a similar allusion, Alexa mentions Holly Golightly, the main character in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novel published in 1958. The novel was later turned into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn. An interesting point to note is that like Vidal and Isherwood, Capote was also homosexual.

Critical Overview

Since it was first produced, As Bees in Honey Drown has enjoyed almost continuous production in small theatres and on college campuses across the nation from New England to Hawaii and Las Vegas to New Orleans. Most critics believe this play is Beane’s best, and audiences tend to agree as they watch the two acts of this modern satire.

Jay Reiner, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, finds Beane’s play only ‘‘mildly amusing,’’ but he knows why the theme of Bean’s play works. ‘‘A society,’’ Reiner writes, ‘‘that makes a fetish of fame and celebrity is made to order for a con man to exploit.’’ The fact that Beane uses a woman as the exploiter amuses Reiner even more. Reiner says of the fact that Beane’s con artist is a woman, ‘‘so much the better.’’

Beane’s play began in New York City in a small theatre off Broadway where it played for a little over a year. Since then, the play has been produced numerous times by different production companies all over the states. Joel Hirschhorn reviews the play for Variety after seeing it performed on the West Coast in Pasadena. Hirschhorn writes, ‘‘Beane’s indictment of the 15-minute fame and hunger for applause has resonance, and the enterprise is worth watching.’’

Often, in reviewing some of Beane’s more recent plays, critics refer back to Beane’s As Bees in Honey Drown, commenting on the brilliance of this earlier work. For example, Ben Brantley of the New York Times in a review of Beane’s Mondo Drama refers to As Bees in Honey Drown as ‘‘one of the liveliest satiric romps of the last decade.’’ In this same article, Brantley also mentions Beane’s theatrical group, the Drama Department, who first produced As Bees in Honey Drown as ‘‘the inventive, star-studded troupe that has become the last word in downtown theatrical savvy.’’

Source: Drama for Students V 21,Thomson Gale

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