Arts & Events

Theater Review: Beekeeper, by Virago at Rhythmix

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 12:37:00 PM

Beekeeper, Jennifer Lynne Roberts' play in its premiere by Virago Theatre Company at Rhythmix Cultural Works in Alameda, is going into its last weekend. Set in rural Oregon, the story is of an eccentric, single parent beekeeper and his daughter, Oleta, who also has a passion for the bees. A tragic accident that comes of her childhood enthusiasm makes a rift between father and daughter ... and as a young woman, she goes off to study, returning home after her father's death to visit her aunt and uncle--and confront the past, swarming like a hive around her. 

She's been studying Colony Collapse Syndrome, the worldwide phenomenon of many beehives abandoned, though no trace is found of the bees. Roberts uses this as a metaphor for family, for society--but sparingly, more as a parallelism, with much careful detail and grounding of the story, avoiding the pitfalls of a kind of genre or sub-genre of drama that's emerged over the past few decades in which mathematics, poetry, music--some specialized field of endeavor--is used as an analogy for psychological or sociological phenomena ... abandoning any but the most conceptual sense of poetry, math ... whatever stands in for the complexity of life. (David Auburn's Proof or Joan Ackerman's Ice Glen--which played at Aurora a few years back--would serve as examples.) 

Roberts gets the sense of family intimacy and eccentricity without lingering too much on the details, and of what's inherited, one generation to the next. There's a hint of King Lear here, intended or not, with the closeness of father and daughter, no mother present--then their estrangement and his emotional opacity and extravagance ... All on a smaller scale, as befits a troubled apiary, not a divided kingdom. Or maybe Beekeeper's a kind of descendant of Virgil's Fourth Georgic, the poem about beekeeping which veers off into the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, hinting at parallels between beehives and human lives ... 

Virago's production is well put together, with an excellent cast (Kit Asa-Hauser, Donald Hardy, Melissa Keith, Julian Lafferty, George Macrae, Sandi Rubay) and tight, sensitive stage direction by Laura Lundy-Paine, who gets the most out of both cast and story. Donald Hardy's strong as the father, as is Melissa Keith as Oleta, grown up. Particularly impressive details are the young actors onstage (and young understudy Trixie Klein, who stepped in opening night to play Oleta as a child), as well as Sandi Rubay's performance as Oleta's aunt, her father's sister--the only mature female in the mix ... Rubay has played character roles with distinction in comedies, drama and musicals around the Bay (Virago cast her in their splendid production of Bernstein's Candide)--but she's never played in a solid supporting role hereabouts, and acquits it like an old trouper. 

--Thursday at 7, Friday and Saturday at 8, Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding, Alameda. $10-$25. 1-800-838-3006;;