Alexa Vere de Vere, the absolutely fabulous whirlwind who blows through the delightful, pointed comedy “As Bees in Honey Drown,” is a creation worthy of Isherwood, Capote, Bankhead and Tennessee Williams. In fact, as written by Douglas Carter Beane and played by Off Broadway treasure J. Smith-Cameron, Alexa is a creation of those worldly icons. Audiences would be well advised to avoid feeling smug about recognizing the influences (a bit of Sally Bowles here, some Holly Golightly there): Beane is one step ahead.
A smart and very funny vivisection of the greed for fame, glamour and the good life (or at least a new life), “Bees” is yet another slam-dunk for Off Broadway’s Drama Dept. (which scored last season with “June Moon”), director Mark Brokaw (following up his successful work on “How I Learned to Drive”), Beane (screenwriter of “To Wong Foo …”) and the sharp cast headed by Smith-Cameron.
Beane’s ultramodern morality tale charts the rise and fall of first-time novelist Evan Wyler (Bo Foxworth), the literary world’s latest up-and-comer who, despite some old-fashioned notions about a writer’s responsibilities, isn’t above removing his shirt for a magazine’s beefcake photo. Into his life swirls the wonderfully charming socialite/record producer Alexa Vere de Vere, who not only hires the penniless writer to pen her bio-screenplay, but so utterly captivates the heretofore utterly gay Evan that the writer actually believes he’s in love.
That Alexa is a self-made creation is no secret — Alexa herself gladly cops to the charge, gleefully borrowing snippets from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Cabaret” and any number of other movies with free-spirited, sophisticated heroines. “Confection,” says an enchanted Evan. “Pure confection.”
The confection, of course, is Alexa’s plausible diversion: By the end of act one, both the audience and Evan know that he’s been stiffed by a consummate con artist, and the second act spirals into Evan’s dizzying investigation into the “real” Alexa, a journey that brings him into contact with several of Alexa’s former victims — all of whom were undone not only by Alexa’s charms, but by their own lust for the Holy Grail of modern society: “fame without achievement.”
The structure of Beane’s play necessitates considerable repetition (Alexa reappears in act two to repeat bits of previous dialogue as Evan pieces together the puzzle), but Brokaw so vividly and fluidly stages the character interactions (on a set that cleverly re-creates the way-hip modernism of Manhattan’s Paramount Hotel) that the action never lags. Nor do the laughs, thanks in large part to Smith-Cameron’s breathless, breakneck delivery (in an accent midway between Katharine Hepburn and Kathleen Turner) of Beane’s hilarious bon mots and non sequiturs.
The play falters a bit when it turns serious in its indictment of fame and faux success, but only a bit. This comedy, and its central performance, will linger in memory long after the next rising star burns through the allotted 15 minutes