Step into the dark-comedy, satirical, existential world of playwright Bruce Norris (“Clybourne Park”), who now gives us “A Parallelogram” a wildly philosophical meditation involving time, space, what-ifs and our inability to control the future.
That’s a tall order, but a super cast and Michael Greif’s sharp staging of Norris’s snappy dialogue, characterizations and provocative insights, make for an entertaining if sometimes overextended journey.
Lording over the proceedings is wonderful Anita Gillette as future versions of contemporary Bee, a woman in her thirties played with brittle bewilderment mixed with anguished outbursts by the excellent Celia Keenan-Bolger. Gillette appears as Bee 2, 3 and 4, and the conversations the Bees have thrust the playwright’s ideas at us.
Gillette is terrific as she uses a remote-type device to go back and forth in time to make her points with the present Bee, and cynically talks about the dim future that awaits Bee (and we). Gillette also make the most of direct speeches to the audience, with some daringly acerbic observations, including how the future eventually will dim concerns and memories about such seminal events as the Holocaust and 9/11, and foretelling a plague that could destroy the world. Throughout she shows excellent timing and acting ability, as when she conjures a situation in which people descend upon the White House only to have the president drop dead when they get there. At the performance I attended there was a big laugh at the subsequent line that nobody liked him anyway.
The action that the older Bee oversees and sometimes manipulates involves the relationship between the Bee 1 and her live-in, irritable, hyper, neurotic boyfriend Jay (Stephen Kunken), who has left hs wife for Bee and tries to keep up a relationship with his children separate from Bee. (One may wonder how Jay and Bee ever became attracted to each other in the first place.) The sparring between them is enacted excellently as the sparks fly. At one point Bee1 is delighted to hear future Bee call Jay “an asshole,” which, of course, he can’t hear.
Jay becomes totally befuddled by what occurs when Bee has her invisible relationship with Bee 2. Although Bee doesn’t smoke, we see that she will when she becomes Bee 2. Jay smells the smoke, although Bee denies she is smoking and doesn’t yet in her present state. It’s all very funny and Kunken and Keenan-Bolger milk the situation to its fullest.
To complicate matters, there is the sexually attractive, Spanish-speaking handyman JJ (Juan Castano), hired to mow the lawn at the suburban house, and (spoiler here), he will soon do a different kind of mowing when Bee takes up with him.
The play gets increasingly complex, with swift dazzling scene changes (set design by Rachel Hauck, lighting design by Kenneth Posner). Bee finds herself depressed in a hospital room as she faces a suspicion that she may have a brain tumor, and she is also confronted with Jay and JJ competing for her attention and affection.
Lurking throughout are questions for Bee and people in general. What if you could go back in time—would your actions be any different? What if you could know what your future holds? Would you want to go on living if it were grim? How much of a difference would any of that make if, say, the world were engulfed by a plague, or, one might add beyond Norris’s speculations, nuclear oblivion?
Some of the in and out of time gambits might be shortened, and some of the ideas become repetitive. But the concepts with which the playwright deals are intriguing, and with his perspective and expertise, he succeeds in laying them out in often hilarious situations and conversation. The right cast has been chosen to deliver it all. And hovering over everything is the superb, memorable and enjoyable performance by the very theatrically experienced Gillette in the multiple Bee roles that she entertainingly commands while being the messenger expertly delivering the playwright's theoretical ideas. At the Second Stage Theater, 305 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-246-4422. Reviewed August 6, 2017.