A Parallelogram is Disorienting in a Good Way
by Armando Huipe
Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris’ A Parallelogram doesn’t offer much along the lines of answers or continuity in time or place, but the fragmented reality in which the play exists is manageable and enjoyably confounding under Tony Award winner Anna D. Shapiro’s direction.
In a universe where even time is not dependable, the play requires strong performances and the believability of its characters to carry on. At the play’s onset, Bee (Marin Ireland) discusses with her future-self, Bee 2 (Marylouise Burke), how her life, that of her boyfriend and the world at large will play out. Bee’s first instinct is to find out if she can change the outcomes of her choices based on what she’s learned, but through a series of time-jumps we deduce that everything will turn out largely the same.
Disbelief suspended, we reluctantly accept that time travel is possible through some clever geometry. By the end of the first act, the bedroom set transforms into a hospital room, introducing nagging doubts about Bee’s psychological state that also call into question the play’s point of view, which shifts from Bee to Bee 2 and back. Audience sympathies are likely to initially land with present day Bee. However, as the play progresses, Bee 2 turns out to be the dominant voice of the play.
Bee’s boyfriend, Jay (Tom Irwin), demonstrates his character through a series of speeches, which he delivers mostly to himself. As the white male in the show, he ruminates on his inherent privilege and addresses the audience’s readiness to antagonize him. And yes, at first, it is very easy to antagonize him, but we discover a tenderness in his character that keeps us from counting him out completely.
The couple’s Latino gardener, JJ (Carlo Albán), is cutout cardboard in comparison with the rest of the characters, lacking in development and specificity. We gather from his accent that he is not Mexican, but beyond that it is difficult to figure out his back-story. In the second act after Jay leaves Bee, JJ moves into Bee’s house with his Latina grandmother Bee 4, played hilariously by Burke who is quite obviously white. Yet, we still do not get a deeper understanding of JJ’s character. Our perception of him is mostly shaped in contrast to Jay.
Todd Rosenthal’s sparse set on the Taper stage made the characters seem very small, almost as if the actors were dolls in a dollhouse. This compounds the sense of how helpless the characters are in their complicity with destiny. The sound by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen is straightforward and jarring using static electricity for its time jumps and a Tell Tale heartbeat.
In the end, it is difficult to pin point what this play is about. It displays the Latino gardener trope, a post-apocalyptic future, gender roles and motivations, but centrally it wants to deal with the paralyzing notion of predestination and significance (or insignificance) of a single individual. Nihilism minimizes all of the other issues that the characters are dealing with much in the same way the set dwarfs the actors. Norris doesn’t propose any philosophy or answers to cope with the crushing issues he presents. Bee exemplifies this paralysis in her stunted emotional growth. If anything, Bee 2 tells us to cope by simply growing older and into a lackadaisical attitude.
* * *
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Mark Taper Forum
135 N. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
July 21st – August 18th
Tuesday through Friday at 8pm
Saturday at 2:30pm and 8pm
Sunday 1pm and 6:30pm
No performance on Monday
Tickets available through: CenterTheatreGroup.org, 213.628.2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office
Group Sales 213.972.7231
Deaf community information and charge: TDD 213.680.4017