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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Bees & Honey
Marin Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent review of Freda Payne: A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald

Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Katherine George
Photo by Kevin Berne
"The course of true love never did run smooth." (Or so said some obscure English playwright whose name will come to me soon, I'm sure.) And so it is for Manuel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and Johaira (Katherine George), a young couple of Dominican heritage living in Washington Heights in Bees & Honey, a new play by Guadalís Del Carmen. We are introduced to the pair as each–one at stage left, the other stage right–tell the story of the night they met. Johaira, newly graduated from college and on her way to law school, is out with her girlfriends at a nightclub to celebrate. Though she's not really a club girl, and isn't into most of the guys she sees ("Every guy looked like he was in a Diddy video."), there's something about Manuel's smile that entrances her, and soon they are dancing to the incredibly romantic bachata music the club is playing. To dance to bachata, Johaira says, "You really got to be in step with your partner." The challenge for the pair is to maintain that synchronization when they are off the dance floor.

Life seems promising for Johaira and Manuel–Manuel owns an auto repair shop and is looking to expand into a second location, and Johaira is a prosecuting attorney assigned to a high-profile sexual assault case. But rough times are ahead.

The challenges Johaira and Manuel face are nothing earth-shattering or melodramatic. It's not as if one is addicted to pills, or is having a secret affair, or has received a devastating medical diagnosis of some sort; rather, these two face the same obstacles so many couples come up against: busy schedules, in-law problems, challenges at wor–…your basic first-world problems. They seem to genuinely love each other, and despite their differences, work hard to understand each other. Johaira gives Manuel feminist books to read, and he seems open to embracing a broader, more enlightened view of women than his cultural background might imply. He is respectful of Johaira and her boundaries, but when her case overwhelms her, and his expansion plans lead to additional stress, and a small tragedy befalls them, the cracks between them begin to expand.

George and Lendeborg deliver solid performances here. Their chemistry feels genuine and intimate, and their physical interactions (overseen by intimacy coordinator Jeunée Simon) meld nicely with their emotional connection. They have a sweet, easy, relaxed way with each other. Johaira's eyes blaze with a ghost pepper spiciness when she's angry, and Manuel's smile is as entrancing as Johaira's impression of it on the night they met.

The set (by Carlos Antonio Aceves) is sadly bland and unappealing, more like something out of a Levitz showroom than a space that truly feels lived in. It's monochromatic and lifeless–so unlike the romantic music that inspired the couple in the first place.

Director Karina Gutiérrez puts the emphasis on the high pressure jobs, cultural challenges, and gender expectations that stand in the way of Manuel's and Johaira's long-term happiness, creating moments of intimacy/conflict (as when Johaira plays against Manuel in a video game) that help us better understand both the joy and travails they experience.

The dialogue is naturalistic and believable, and the tight (90 minutes, no intermission) structure of the piece may mean we miss some of the key moments in Manuel and Johaira's lives (we jump straight from first meeting to wedded cohabitation without seeing a proposal or hearing references to a wedding), but it allows Del Carmen to focus our attention on the moments that lead to the play's somewhat unsatisfying ending. I was rooting for the pair to make it, and Del Carmen does at least leave that door open, but just a crack.

Bees & Honey runs through March 10, 2024, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $43-$70. For tickets and information, please visit or call the box office at 415-388-5208.