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A CurtainUp Review
A Parallelogram

If you knew in advance exactly what was going to happen in your life, and how everything was going to turn out, and if you knew you couldn't do anything to change it, would you still want to go on with your life? — Bee.
A Parallelogram
Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Anita Gillette (© Joan Marcus)
It's taken almost ten years for Bruce Norris's part sci-fi, part fantasy, part Groundhog Day play Parallelogram to reach New York. The Steppenwolf premiere in 2009 was followed by a production at the Los Angeles Center Theater Group. And now, here is this very dark though frequently funny puzzle play at Second Stage, a premiere of sorts since it's Bruce Norris's first time with this company. .

While A Parallelogram is not on a par either with Norris's The Pain and the Itch or the Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park, it's been given a topnotch new production. And Norris, as usual tells his story with humor and sharp dialogue. The structure dramatizing above quoted What If question about soldiering on even if we indeed know that what's in store for us can get a bit confusing but as directed by Michael Greif and performed by this cast, you won't be bored. And the hypothetical question quoted at the top of this review likely one audiences are likely to ask each other long after they've left the theater.

The character chosen by Norris to look into the future is a young woman named Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger). But there are three other Bees. While possibly figments of Bee's depression or other illness triggered imagination, they are all played by a very real older actress (Anita Gillette)

The situation around which Norris builds his drama centers on Bee. The play opens on a condo occupied by Bee and her boyfriend Jay (Stephen Kunken), who's left his wife Marcie (unseen) for the younger Bee; but he is still very much in contact with his kids.

Bee is silently hunkered down on the bed, while Bee 2, who's visible only to her, is in an armchair at the other side of the stage. Jay is your typical regular guy who likes to watch football and not think about death and global disasters, but he does wish Bee didn't smoke. A Hispanic yard worker named JJ (Juan Castano) initially shows up as a minor character, but unsurprisingly plays a more major part later on.

Actually the smoke comes not from the real Bee but her 60 something self who has apparently traveled back in time to fill Bee in on what's in store for her — none of it good for Bee and even worse for the world at large.

Bee 2 and Bee 3 are brought to vivid and frequently hilariously funny life by Gillette. The Groundhog-style scenes that have Bee 2 zapping a remote gadget to replay illustrating the real Bee's inability to more effectively communicate with Jay are a riot. However, funny as Gillette is, what she has to say is hardly uplifting. Knowing what's ahead clearly isn't going to make Keenan-Bolger's Bee able to make anything better for her Bee or the world. No wonder she's in state of inertia.

Maybe Bee is thrown into her funk by the sudden realization that she's in her 30s with a job and a relationship that's not what she once planned. Most likely it is this existential mood that has brought the tell-it-as-it is Bee 2 into that armchair (and Bee's mind). On the other hand, as indicated when the condo is transformed into a hospital room, Bee might actually be suffering from a real and possibly terminal brain disease.

Whatever the case may be the change in scenery and Bee 2's morphing into Bee 3 fit Norris's dark vision of these Bees as a human symbol of a world fostering a growing sense of hopelessness. At any rate, Keenan-Bolger takes us through the real Bee's mounting disengagement from the world around her — and especially from Jay who has prompted Bee 3 to express her amazement that her younger self got involved with such an "asshole."

While Jay is indeed a representative of the dumbed-down people who prefer watching sports on TV to reading books and serious thinking, his character allows the excellent Stephen Kunken to create a deliciously shallow middle-aged man.

While Keenan-Bolger's Bee briefly forms a more hopeful relationship with JJ the yard worker he too ends up fitting Norris's dark vision.

Scenic designer Rachel Hauk has managed to create the various locations without drastic changes to the basic set. Jeff Mahshie's costumes support the actors various permutations. Unfortunately even the directing savvy of Mr. Greif and the terrific performances don't really manage a credible link between the real and surreal Bees. Consequently A Parallelogram is memorable mostly for its tantalizing, if not always believable or easy to follow, stylishness.

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A Parallelogram by Bruce Norris
Directed by Michael Greif
Cast: Juan Castano,Anita Gillette,Celia Keenan-Bolger and Stephen Kunken.
Scenic design by Rachel Hauck
Costume design by Jeff Mahshie
Lighting design by Kenneth Posner
Sound design by Matt Tierney
Animal training by William Berloni
Stage Manager: Shae Candelaria
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes Second Stage on 43rd Street
From 7/11/17; opening 8/2/1; closing 8/20/17.

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