Honeybees throughout the world are disappearing. Entire hives lose their populations almost instantly, and beekeepers’ careers, not to mention our food supply, are threatened. Seemingly, playwright Elena Hartwell maintains that human relationships may be similar to the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. That’s the basic premise that underlies Forget Me Not Theatre Company’s production of “A Strange Disappearance of Bees” at The Den Theatre.
Five characters weave in and out of the space which represents a bakery in small-town America in the present day, and the previous thirty years. The timeline has been shaken up and the scenes, while interconnected, are relayed out of order and in a somewhat disjointed manner. And yet, they come together to tell a beautiful story. Hartwell’s script is well crafted. But, it doesn’t really draw effective parallels between the collapse of bee hives and the lives of the characters in her play.
When her parents abandon Lissa (Renee Lynn Jackson), her life improves by way of a de facto adoption by two of her hometown’s better citizens. When one of those two good people, Cashman (Richard Jewell), dies, the remaining characters come together. Sounds like human resilience in the face of loss. This isn’t at all what happens to bees when the workers suddenly go missing from a hive. That hive is irreparably destroyed. Lives do not implode inexplicably in this play. Generally, that is a relief.
Unfortunately, the production itself suffers effects of disorder, if not total collapse. An effectively functioning ensemble can be seen to function with some level of hive mind. In this case, the actors never seem to connect with each other, and therefore do not communicate within their shared space. The actors’ efforts are further hindered by an abysmal lighting design that features the wall-mounted shelving units and the interiors of display cases, rather than the playing areas or the actors within them. I see this as a lack of cohesive direction. The worker bees need more guidance from their queen, director Emelia Zuckerman. (Christopher Kidder-Mostrom)
Forget Me Not Theatre Company at The Den Theatre, 1333 North Milwaukee, forgetmenottheatreco.com, $21. Through October 24.