What would you do if you found out exactly what was going to happen in the future, but had no power to alter the outcome? This is the dilemma dissected to beautiful effect in Center Theatre Group’s West Coast premiere of “Parallelogram” by Bruce Norris. Bee, played by Marin Ireland, is an average young woman, working in a far-from-glamorous job and living with her divorcee boyfriend, played by Tom Irwin.
Her life is fairly typical to the average American, until one morning she meets Bee 2, played by Marylouise Burke. Bee 2 is the older version of Bee and explains that life exists on a series of lines that continue infinitely and therefore those lines can eventually intersect which has enabled their meeting. Thus begins a fatalistic journey in which Bee alternates between fighting against her fate and simply accepting what surely must come. With the help of a device that Bee 2 possesses Bee is able to relive moments in order to see if she can change the outcome, giving the play a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure feel.
The production is magnificently cast and director Anna D. Shapiro provides staging that remains fresh even on the fourth reincarnation of the same vignette. This is in large part thanks to the outstanding performance of Irwin as Jay the boyfriend. He is able to go through the same motions with the same dialogue with only slight variations several times in a row all the while making each successive pass look like it’s the first time he has ever taken those steps or said those words. I feel like I learned more about acting from watching his performance than I did in the entirety of my beginning acting class in college. Irwin is brilliant and his performance gets better and better as the play goes on.
Burke, as Bee 2, Bee 3 and Bee 4 is fabulous as the irreverent, straight-talking old woman who doesn’t give a damn and lost her filter years ago. Burke’s comedic timing is spot on providing much of the humor, and she is equally capable in the dramatic moments. If you met this woman in a bar, you’d buy her a drink just so you had an excuse to sit and talk with her. Ireland, as the only character that can see and speak to Bee 2/3/4, does a great job of walking the precarious tight rope of sanity. She struggles with knowing her fate but having no recourse to change it and that struggle ebbs and flows until it builds to a breath-taking break down in Act II. Carlo Alban, as JJ the “lawn jockey” is absolutely adorable, but of the four characters in the script, his is definitely the least developed.
Todd Rosenthal provides a perfect backdrop for the action with his set design. In essence the play takes place in the bedroom of a nice apartment and a hospital room, however it is the transitions from one location to the next that are truly spectacular. Adding to Rosenthal’s surroundings James F. Ingalls lighting design combined with Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen’s sound design complete this world wonderfully differentiating between the parallel realities.
“Parallelogram” is an unexpectedly clever, heartfelt and thought-provoking tour de force that is not to be missed.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News