OnStage Playhouse is having its say with Douglas Carter Bean’s 1997 comedy/satire “As Bees In Honey Drown” now playing through Feb. 10th at the Chula Vista Playhouse.
Sandra Ruiz’ high energy role playing con artist Alexa Vere de Vere is quite a change from her role in Ion’s “Lydia” where she plays an undocumented worker taking care of an almost brain dead fifteen year old injured in a car accident.
No, here she is a flashy fast talker who sharpens her teeth on young, innocent and naïve wanna be playwrights, authors, executives, painters, rock artists, models, recording artists, you name it. Her pitch; write her biography and you will get rich and famous quick with the sale of your soon to be book. The key here is ‘rich quick’.
“Bees” according to Stefan Kanfer for The New Leader, “Bean has concocted…a postmodern lady no better than she has to be, in a world considerable worse that it has to be.”
|Sandra Ruiz as Alexa Vere de Vere|
Having completed Con Artistry 101 while living in near poverty with her then painter husband, Michael (James P. Darves), he and Brenda Gelb, not as sexy as Alexa Vere de Vere, hatch a plan for her to change her name and her persona by creating a composite fictional and mysterious character made up of all the rich and famous she’s read about. The goal is to get to know them. Convince them that you have something they want and then go in for the kill.
These included coming artists, playwrights, sports figures; basically anyone out there that the news may be thinking of promoting and hoping to become instantly successful. By chance? Coincidence? Happenstance? No. She just zeros in on magazines covering potential looking up and comers, and made sure she was at the same place at same time as they.
Her first victim was Evan Wyler (Aaron Lugo) who was posing for a magazine promotion for his first novel. While vacillating back and forth as to whether or not to take off his tee shirt and pose nude from the waist up, he catches the eye of Alexa Vere de Vere and we are off to the races.
|Aaron Lugo and Sandra Ruiz|
After she successfully convinces him to work with her to write the story of her life, throwing around all influential and important celebrities she claims to know, she takes him on a shopping spree to beef up his looks, and improve his image.
While he is being distracted, she goes on her own spree coaxing Evan to put the charges on his credit card, which she will of course pay back later. She does the same at a fancy restaurant leaving the baffled Evan’s head spinning while paying the bill.
You get the picture. Not only is she a fast talker, she’s somewhat of a magician and a ‘fast hand is quicker than the speed of sound’ expert.
A series of con jobs lasts through the first eight scenes of the first act where Alexa, an outstanding Ruiz, manages to hustle grown men, slightly grown women and corporate executives into buying, her clothes, jewelry, apartments and travel expenses all on the promise of fame and wealth. So much for that.
Act II slows down a bit, rewinding some of the background information and bringing us up to date as some of the lesser characters, (played by a talented ensemble) whose lives were also impacted by Alexa and survived her scam and retell their story.
One of those surviving victims wants revenge. “Doesn’t anyone ever get her back?” Well it seems Evan has a plan. And how that plays out is one you will have to see for yourselves, because it’s a genius plot, that everyone in Alexa’s web participates. It’s delicious.
|Aaron Luga Emily Candia and Maybelle Covington|
The story plays out on set designer Karl Bunkers all white set, white floor, white scrims, white semi circle cubicles; white everything. Director Bryant Hernandez has a most willing and convincing cast in a high speed run through of all of Alexa’s cons some playing multiple roles.
Chad Oakley designed the excellent lighting, Carla Nell sound and Lisa Burger the costumes.
But the piéce de résistance, the focal point of this eye opening play goes to Ruiz and the perfection she shows inhabiting her character. She’s a brilliant, and her fast -talking, overwhelming non- stop conversation with each and every one of her subjects is picture perfect. She amazes.
James P. Darvas holds our attention as Michael, her husband and the one who knows her best from the get go. When he and Evan finally do meet, the suggestion of a homosexual relationship begins to unravel even though Michael was, supposedly in a heterosexual relationship with Alexa. That one is open to discussion. (“The Jewish husband of convenience”)
|James P. Darvas and Sandra Ruiz|
As for Aaron Lugo’s Evan, he’s the perfect innocent, with eyes so far into the future of his promised success that he’s blinded by what’s in front of him.
Cute and dazzled he is a perfect opposite of Alexa’s misguided persona, but he’s a fast learner. Remember that saying, “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” He was a believer for a long time.
The rest of the cast includes Emily Candia, Maybelle Covington, Edgar Diaz- Gutterrez and Anthony Gordon Hamm as Kaden an executive at Delta Records who manages a few blows to Evan when he comes calling.
And in her words, “You are not the person you were born. Who wonderful is? You are the person you were meant to be.”
“Fame like honey, according to Bean’s play, can give one a rush of sweet pleasure or it can drown one.”
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Trough Feb. 10th.
Organization: OnStage Playhouse
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 291 3rdAvenue, Chula Vista, CA 91912
Venue: OnStage Playhouse
Photo: Daren Scott