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Theater review by Helen Shaw
Look past its sci-fi trappings and intimations of apocalypse and you'll find that Bruce Norris's sour-spirited A Parallelogram is actually an adultery drama. One round of cheating has already happened when the scrim goes up: Irritating Jay (Stephen Kunken) has recently left his first wife for gorgeous Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger), and the bickering couple have moved in together. In the play's first scene, a hot yard guy JJ (Juan Castano) walks past the window—cuckoldry cliché and promise all at once—and indeed Bee has started “seeing” someone, so we watch her loyalties get distorted as Jay's once did. But her transgression is a meta-theater pun: Bee's secret is that she's seeing, or perhaps hallucinating, Bee 2 (Anita Gillette), an invisible-to-others time traveler claiming to be Bee's older self.
Wielding a remote that can rewind scenes—a trick that never gets old in Michael Greif's sleek staging—Bee 2 bears only bad tidings. There's a cataclysmic plague coming, but Bee can’t alter her future. This turns Bee 2's “just surrender” message into something crawling with horror. Still, Gillette gets most of the laughs, pandering straight to the audience with lines about how great it is to be old. “You just don't give a shit!” she says with a twinkle. People chuckle, overlooking the fact her real message is that her younger self, and by extension all us futureless vermin, should just die.
Norris is stirring a witch's brew, mixing cynicism about relationships with a belief that no amount of knowledge can make mankind avert disaster. Whether you'll want to see A Parallelogram depends on your palate for poison. Norris excels at writing conversations you heartily wish would end, and Keenan-Bolger and Kunken talk at each other with the kind of blank insistence that does, in fact, make you fear for humanity. I certainly came away with a bad taste in my mouth; the play is successful, as far as it goes, in making even the pre-apocalypse savor of ashes.
Second Stage Theatre (). By Bruce Norris. Directed by Michael Greif. With ensemble cast. 2 hrs 15mins. One intermission. Through August 20.