An astonishing message from the future
|Steppenwolf Theatre presents|
|Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through August 29th | tickets: $50 | more info
reviewed by Keith Ecker
Forgive me, but I am going to use a cliché blurb: If you only see one play this year, see Steppenwolf Theatre’s A Parallelogram.
I know. You might be put off by the title. But I swear, this is not a dramatic telling of geometric principles. It is partly a lesson in physics, but really it’s more of an existentialist drama with a science fiction tinge. Like, have you ever wondered what it would be like if Samuel Beckett and Kurt Vonnegut got together over a bottle of whiskey and hashed out a play? Well, this is that play.
Written by Bruce Norris—a Steppenwolf regular whose other works include We All Went Down to Amsterdam and The Pain and the Itch, among others—the play tells the tale of Bee (Kate Arrington), a woman who was the other woman to Jay (Tom Irwin) before he left his wife for her. They live in an unremarkable home with a pool and a backyard, which is cared for by JJ (Tim Bickel), the friendly Guatemalan landscaper.
At the top of the play, Jay lectures Bee about smoking in the house. The only problem is, Bee doesn’t smoke. Enter the other Bee (Marylouise Burke) who watches this action from a place that is beyond time. She is Bee from the future and is visible and audible to young Bee only. Sitting in a chair stage left, she smokes and fills up on Oreos while providing her own personal commentary.
How is it possible for Bee to see herself from the future? Although we as the audience must suspend our disbelief, we do get an explanation. Time, as we know it, is merely a construction of the human mind. Therefore, the moment you are born and the moment you die are the exact same moment. Taken a step further, these moments are happening right now and will happen now forever. Add to this Einstein’s theory of the universe and that parallel lines if extended to infinity would eventually intersect, and you have the answer. Okay. So it’s a little confusing. But does it matter?
Younger Bee wants the Future Bee to tell her about her life. Future Bee obliges, even using a special remote control to give Younger Bee the chance to change the present in order to influence the future. But as Future Bee continually iterates, you may be able to alter the short term, but the long term is pretty much set.
There’s also tension due to Younger Bee’s dwindling sanity, her inability to have children and a disease that threatens to wipe out the human race. It’s definitely a lot to cram into one play, but Norris is a master of economy. He consistently manages to give a scene or a conversation just the right amount of time, his pacing is impeccable and he can tie together disparate elements in a way that makes perfect sense.
The acting is phenomenal. You can feel the audience get giddy every time Burke opens her mouth. She plays Future Bee with a rare sort of comedic brashness. When she breaks the fourth wall to address the audience, it plays like a George Carlin stand-up routine.
Arrington pulls us into her character, making us feel the pain of knowing, knowing how relationships will end and knowing how people will die. And Irwin makes a great sympathetic jerk who wonders if his future-seeing girlfriend is God’s punishment for his past infidelities.
Director Anna Shapiro knows this material well. She comes at the heady story with a comedic eye, which relieves the pretension that could so easily have sunk the play
And although I don’t often comment on it, the set design is amazing. A Parallelogram has one of the most eye-popping set transitions I have ever seen.
If you don’t already have your tickets, get them now. But then again, what is now? And if you are going to see it, doesn’t that mean you’ve already seen it or that you are seeing it right now? Who knows? Whatever the case may be, go see this play.
Designers, Authors and Crew
Author: Bruce Norris
Directed by: ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro
Scenic Design: Todd Rosenthal
Costume Design: Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Design: James F. Ingalls
Sound Design: Michael Bodeen, Rob Milburn
Stage Manager: Laura D. Glenn
Assistant Stage Manager: Christine D. Freeburg