Review: ‘The Beekeeper’s Daughter’ at The Theater For The New City

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

NEW YORK NY - The Beekeeper’s Daughter, written and directed by Karen Malpede celebrates its 22nd birthday this year. It talks about the Bosnian war of 1992-95 but takes place far from the theater of action, namely on the remote island on the Adriatic Sea, where the poet Robert (George Bartenieff, who originated this role in 1995) enjoys the company of his young lover Jamie (P.J. Brennan). Robert’s sister, pensive and doleful Sybil, shares the roof with them and looks after the beehives. The family is soon to be completed with Robert’s daughter, Rachel (Najla Said), who returns from her humanitarian mission in Bosnia with Admira (Di Zhu), a pregnant refugee whom she took under her wing.  

From there the narrative branches out like a soap opera: young love bursts out, skeletons come out of the closet, wounds heal slowly and painfully. The appearance of Admira and her baby stirs the world of the eccentric American family and puts everybody on a journey of self-rediscovery. As announced by Karen Malpede on the opening night, Di Zhu joined the cast very recently. Maybe it was the coming together of this circumstance and the role of the outsider, but Di Zhu really shined as Admira. Visibly subtle on the surface, her performance conveyed distress and tension with only the occasional tear showing the turmoil inside. 

"The Beekeeper's Daughter," written and directed by Karen Malpede, presented by Theater for the New City, June 2-26, 2016.  L: Najla Said. R: P.J. Brennan. Photo by Beatrice Schiller.

"The Beekeeper's Daughter," written and directed by Karen Malpede, presented by Theater for the New City, June 2-26, 2016.  L: Najla Said. R: P.J. Brennan. Photo by Beatrice Schiller.

The rest of the cast seemed like potentially strong actors, with which the director didn’t work enough. Scenes looked stale, dialogues often too lengthy and there was no chemistry whatsoever despite drama escalating in the plot. To demonstrate the Dionysian atmosphere of the island, some provocative moments were thrown into the viewer’s face, like eating grapes from the genitalia and full frontal nudity. How pertinent these moments are is debatable, but at least it gave the performers some outer motivation to react and act. Even in the simple action of pouring and drinking wine they seemed more involved than in the supposedly passionate scenes.  

At least the director, Karen Malpede, managed to utilize the unconventionally long and deep stage space by putting different scenes on different planks with the most dramatic ones being closer to the audience. The costumes by Carisa Kelly and Sally Ann Parsons were surprisingly professional and well developed. They managed to create a very unique world of it’s own where fantasy about ancient Greece meets modern days. However, the armature looking scenic design by Michelangelo DeSerio seemed less considered. 

The topics that Karen Malpede raises in her play are relevant today; that’s what brought me to The Beekeeper’s Daughter. However real issues and potentially rich emotional knots are barely touched, all sacrificed for the witty writing to which the actors couldn’t connect. It seems like the entire play is built on quicksand. Unfortunately The Beekeeper’s Daughter became another play where interesting ideas didn’t find solid ground and never gained proper footing.  

The Beekeeper’s Daughter can be seen in The Theater For The New City at 155 First Avenue, New York, through June 26th. Performances run from Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. General admission is $18 per ticket and can be purchased on the theater’s website: $10 tickets are available for seniors, students and the unemployed. More information about the show can be found here: