Los Angeles Theater Review: A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF BEES (Raven Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on October 25, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Last August, Time’s cover story, “A World Without Bees,” brought to light a frightening occurrence: In recent years, there have been mass deaths of honeybees around the globe, known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” Scientists are surmising the reasons – agricultural pesticides, parasitic mites, bacterial and HIV-like diseases – but they’ve yet to figure it out. The cause for alarm has less to do with running out of honey and more to do with the myriad of foods dependent on the tiny pollinators. While many crops are only partially dependent on bee pollination, others, like the almond, cannot get by without it.

Christian T. Chan, Meg Wallace, Brian A. PollackPlaywright Elena Hartwell sees a parallel between A Strange Disappearance of Bees and the evanescent nature of people. Her 2010 play concerns the recently deceased Robert Cashman, who has left his rural bakery to Lissa, a twentysomething orphan whom he has helped to raise. Standing in the bakery at the start of the play is his lover of many years, a beekeeper named Rud, who narrates directly to us about the disastrous condition of the Apis mellifera (the bee information is fascinating). In walks a young tech mogul, Robert, an Amerasian child born of the Vietnam War who pursues the dad he has not known. Robert’s arrival spurs Lissa to rethink her affair with local married farmer Callum.

The play then becomes a series of back-and-forth flashbacks which explore the interconnectedness of these characters. It seems like an interesting play with its themes of loss and new beginnings, but there will be no buzz about the dead-on-arrival production by Collaborative Artists Ensemble. With visionless direction by Ian Patrick Williams, Jean GilpinSteve Jarrard, the cast is a master class in bad acting. Except for a honeyed performance from Brian A. Pollack as the conflicted Callum, the acting is so reprehensible that the show itself becomes unreviewable.

Characters come and go through time, but the lighting work is minimal and the actors never change outfits. Props from a scene that happened years ago remain in place for a current scene, and the poor thespians flounder physically and emotionally with no motivation, no purpose, no background and no depth: One actor is like Melanie Griffith on opiates, another is in the style of a sitcom, one forces emotion to the point of embarrassment, and yet another is like – how do I put this? – Elaine Stritch doing an impression of Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan in a 1970s commercial.

This is the third and final outing for me with this company, which is clearly an incestuous group that runs this outfit for their own welfare, not for making good theater. It’s a sticky situation. The alarming rate of the higgledy-piggledy quality of acting and directing in Los Angeles may be a sign of Community Theater Collapse Disorder.

Jean Gilpin

photos by Steve Jarrard

A Strange Disappearance of Bees
Raven Playhouse
5233 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood
ends on November 17, 2013
for tickets, call 323.860.6569
or visit Collaborative Artists

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

L Weaver October 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I know this is an up-and-coming small company (i.e., not Broadway). You have your right to your arrogant opinion, but what in the hell do you mean as “incestuous”?


Tony Frankel October 29, 2013 at 10:41 am

I believe you thought I used the word “incestuous” as something meaning sexual. I did not. Let me quote the dictionary: “Being so close or intimate as to prevent proper functioning.”


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