- OnStage Contributing Critic
Sometimes the title of a play represents only a small portion of what the play is about, and thus can be slightly misleading. Such is the case with the play Bee – now playing at HB Studio – which has very little (although not exactly nothing) to do with the insect it is named for. Bee makes personal some powerful and relevant cultural issues.
This play is the brainchild of director Melody Erfani, in collaboration with playwright Sean Michael Welch, as part of a residency. It was created for the purpose of telling the life story of Erfani’s paternal grandmother, Izat Erfani, who lived in Iran in the 1940s, and whose story continues to have relevance in 2017. I should note I was invited to review a workshop production – which was followed by a post-show talkback – meaning that this play is still in the developmental stages.
The xenophobia in today’s political climate makes Erfani’s almost seventy-year-old story feel just as vital and relevant as ever. What often gets lost in the midst of the immigration debate today is the motive that many immigrants have for coming to the U.S.: to escape the horrific brutality that so many of them face in their home countries. This play explores just how difficult it is (and was) to be a woman in Iran, how the archaic and draconian laws that govern their society allow for women to face domestic violence and abuse at the hands of men, and how difficult it can be for women in these societies to escape an abusive marriage.
The cast consists entirely of women of Middle Eastern backgrounds, playing characters of different genders. Standing out amongst them is Buket Gulbeyuz in the lead role of Izat, who delivered the strong, emotional, performance the role needs. Brittany Zaken proved vigorous and engaging in the role of Shahrazad, while Gamze Ceylan delivered a particularly strong and passionate performance in the role of Rahman. The cast is rounded out by Rakel Aroyo (Ensemble/Faraday), Ayse Babahan (Nassar), Laraina Bellecour (Dariush), Muge Karagulle (Ensemble/Mullah) and Dana Hart Lubeck (Zahra).
The minimalistic set design – a carpet and pillows – and the use of sound help with setting the mood of the play. I especially liked the incorporation of videos and projections during the dance and movement portions of the play. It might have been nice to see a clearer distinction – in terms of the costuming – between the male and female characters, but that ultimately made little difference, as the script and the acting did a sufficient job at making clear who was male and who was female.
While this play is still in developmental stages, this performance alone showed how this work is already a highly thought-provoking and heart-wrenching tale that, in my opinion, is the type of show that every person thinking about the immigration debate in America today ought to see. It will be fascinating to see what the future has in store for this very moving play, and I look forward to hearing more about it – and perhaps even seeing it again, at another venue – at some point in the future.
“Bee" – presented by LES Shakespeare Company – runs at HB Studio from November 4th to 19th. For more information, please visit www.eventbrite.com/e/first-floor-studio-residency-bee-tickets-38636306232. Photo: Buket Gulbeyuz (Izat) & Lariena Bellecour (Dariush). Photo credit: Edison Koo