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A Parallelogram


Marin Ireland and Tom Irwin
Bad news, nerds: Bruce Norris's A Parallelogram is not about math. Good news, though: It's about time travel. Specifically, the play considers what happens when a woman, Bee, is visited by her future self (the unimaginatively named Bee 2), who brings some bad news about the future—both Bee's personal future and the overall future of people on the planet.

Armed with this knowledge, Bee wants to change things. But Bee 2's position—which is presented as the message of the play—is that she can't. Sure, Bee can change a few little things, but in the long run, everything will play out as it is destined to do so. This topic is played for laughs, at least at first. Bee 2 is armed with a remote control device which enables her to rewind time. She uses it to give Bee a chance to replay a short scene with her boyfriend Jay (who is oblivious to Bee 2's presence and her remote). It's almost like an improv game in which Jay innocently replays the lines and actions he did before, while being required to react to a somewhat different Bee. When Bee fails to get a different result, she asks to try again. The whole sequence earns many laughs, as Bee tries increasingly unusual things to change the result, and Jay becomes more frustrated by Bee's bizarre behavior.

In addition to the magic rewind button, Bee 2's remote also allows her to pause the action and fast forward over the boring parts. This she does, in order to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. (Incidentally, I found this to serve as proof that Bee 2 was, in fact, real, and not simply someone that existed only in Bee's head.) Again, it's played for laughs; Bee 2's explanation of a worldwide pandemic which will decimate the population is humorous—based largely on Bee 2's attitude toward the event.

And that's pretty much the first act: Bee trying to mess with predestination; Bee 2 giving her the chance while simultaneously telling her it's useless; and Bee 2 talking directly to the audience about how Bee is doomed to fail. It's played light and quick—until it ends with a first act curtain surprise which pulls the rug out from under the proceedings.

Which really brings up the problem I had with A Parallelogram: the second act doesn't take full advantage of the first act surprise. Right before intermission, we'd been promised that the play was going to go off in a completely different direction, one which takes some of the levity out and goes on a darker journey. But, after an initial 15 minutes or so, in which the play purposely leaves us guessing as to what's going on, things pretty much get back to where they were. Sure, it's funny. But how many times can you laugh at older Bee (now Bee 3) calling Jay an "asshole" when only Bee can hear?

Norris's dialogue, in any individual scene, is sharp and snappy. The conversations between Bee and Jay sound like conversations between any couple—comfortable, zippy, and peppered with a standard amount of jokes. Tom Irwin is particularly good with Jay, conveying all of his frustration and tendency to patronize—but still showing Jay as a basically decent guy who is trying to make this relationship work (unlike his last one). Bee 2 is written like the standard comic old lady who just tells it like it is, and Marylouise Burke seems like she's having fun with the part (although, at the performance reviewed, she stumbled over a line or two). At the center of it all is Marin Ireland as Bee. Ireland plays Bee sort of as an everyman—she's flawed and she recognizes it, but she craves meaning in her life and refuses to accept the idea that she can't change the future.

There is nothing overlapping in the interpretations of Bee and Bee 2. Sure, Bee 2 wears glasses and Bee initially doesn't, and a pair of specs magically materialize on Bee's face over intermission. But there's no real overlap—no similarity in speech patterns or mannerisms, and certainly no similarity in world view. Even in the last seconds of the play, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief that hopeful Bee would ever become fatalistic Bee 2. The problem invited looking at the play from a different point of view: was this entire exercise Bee 2's attempt to turn Bee into the person who would be Bee 2? Looking at the play from Bee 2's perspective rather than that of Bee reopens the debate on free will, and may lead to an entirely different (although equally depressing) interpretation.

A Parallelogram runs at the Mark Taper Forum through August 18, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

Center Theatre Group – Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Edward L. Rada, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director – presents A Parallelogram by Bruce Norris. Scenic Design Todd Rosenthal; Costume Design Alex Jaeger; Lighting Design James F. Ingalls; Sound Design Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen; Original Casting Erica Daniels, CSA; Casting Erika Sellin, CSA & Mark B. Simon, CSA; Dramaturg Joy Meads; Production Stage Manager David S. Franklin; Stage Manager Michelle Blair; Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro.

Cast:
JJ – Carlo Albαn
Bee 2, Bee 3, Bee 4 – Marylouise Burke
Bee – Marin Ireland
Jay – Tom Irwin

Photo: Craig Schwartz


- Sharon Perlmutter






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