Flying into the Boston Center for the Arts, the Sleeping Weazel soars with three original plays, as part of its “The Birds and the Bees: A Festival of New Plays” tackling mortality, conformity, and camaraderie, and myriad of other issues and ideas with originality and charm. Featuring Boston favorites Steven Barkhimer, Kate Snodgrass, Karen MacDonald, Cliff Odle, and more, the plays reflect worlds just off-kilter from ours but with enough sensibility and relationships to ground each play in an evolving conversation of how we live our lives and tell our stories, beyond just “the birds and the bees.”
I admit to missing the first part of the first play, “The Last Bark”, written by Kate Snodgrass, and starring both Snodgrass and Steven Barkhimer, as therapist and patient, during the patient’s last session. Do yourself a favor and go to the theatre before 7:30pm for the rest of the run. Snodgrass is sharp and probing, Barkhimer has his gleeful look of confusion and introspection. The play is a solid exploration of what really matters beneath the façade of other problems and concerns. Snodgrass and Barkhimer have a natural comfort with each other, from slouching on the couch together with bottles of booze to asking (and answering) each other some of life’s more difficult questions. Snodgrass writes the play with care, creating a tight moment for each of these characters which you can tell has lasting effect on their lives. We feel like voyeurs of the wonders and mysteries of life, and we love Snodgrass (and Barkhimer, by extension) for it.
“Birds” follows almost immediately, and I got lost. Perhaps my caffeinated buzz wore off from a long week in the office, but “Birds”, written by Adara Meyers, seemed like a flutter of characters and ideas with no firm landing. Centering around Toby (played with youthful energy by Alexander Rankine), “Birds” follows one man’s enrollment in a national institute of stress, and the host of characters, including love interest Rose (played by Julia Alvarez), frenemy Neil (played by Barkhimer), and a trio of other students with creepy tendencies and a nervous energy (played by Mara Palma, Sam Terry, and Louise Hamill). The trio forms the most interesting parts of this drawn-out play, mostly due to Palma, Terry, and Hamill’s infectious energy and dedication to finding the differences and similarities between them (in many ways thanks to the coaching of Director Shana Gozansky). Terry delivered answers with a manic glee; Hamill sunk her eyes deep into our souls; and Palma sullenly responded. The play felt like a utopian, Big Brother world, but felt as stifled in its execution of a skillful delivery of ideas or exploration of novelty as a novel or play published in such a world. I assume that with additional workshopping that this play will resonate with fresh ideas and drive, but, as performed, felt strangely bizarre without the resonance or grounding of the other two plays in this festival.
Finishing the festival, “Beesus and Ballustrada,” written by Charlotte Meehan and directed by Melia Bensussen, is the most stirring and beautiful of the lot. Performed by Cliff Odle and Karen MacDonald in the respective title roles, the play is a gorgeous story of finding ourselves and others at the end of the world. The loneliness and desperation of these characters is palpable, but it is remarkably funny, quirky play in its Shakespearean and Greco-Roman depth, while feeling fresh and new in a Pinter-esque form. MacDonald and Odle have a musicality about their voices which makes each line drive from a personal motivation but feel like poetry. Their hopes and dreams, attached to both the larger world and their own personal betterment, are deeply moving. I have rarely rooted for two strangers in such a compelling way. The dexterity and warmth of the interactions between MacDonald’s Ballustrada and Odle’s Beesus make this play a must see, and I look forward to reading this play in its finished form. Its lessons on not only mortality, but dependence and interpersonal relationships make it an outstanding scene study and personal exploration.
The surprising strength of the fringe company in its design creation and execution made this play stand above the rest. The costumes were eye-pleasing and furthered the plot and characters, especially in “Beesus and Ballustrada.” The lighting design stoked my interest, though was a bit too dark, especially in “Birds.” The set design, while limiting in some places because of the modified thrust and couch placement, was unique and immersive, particularly the words of various props and set pieces written on the floor of the Black Box. I particularly liked the continued presence of a large picture of Freud in the background, and a mysterious ladder finally used in “Beesus and Ballustrada.”
“The Birds and the Bees” might not be for all crowds, given its experimental nature and its introspective views, but it made for an engaging night at the theatre, especially its “Beesus and Ballustrada” by Meehan. This play alone was worth the affordable night at the theatre, and I recommend retreating to a local watering hole for post-show drinks to discuss the many driving themes of this play. While some ideas are not easy to talk about, “The Birds and the Bees: A Festival of New Plays” by Sleeping Weazel presents mortality and a zany world of possibilities that make it easy to dream bigger and hope for a better world.
Sleeping Weazel’s “The Birds and the Bees: A Festival of New Plays” continues to perform from now until June 11, 2016 at the Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Black Box Theatre, at 539 Tremont Street. Tickets are available here: http://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/iThe-Birds-and-the-Beesi/.