The Honeycomb Trilogy
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The Honeycomb Trilogy: Theater review by Jenna Scherer
When it comes to TV viewing these days, everyone's a binge-watcher. We live in the era of the serialized story, the long game; why leave characters after 90 minutes when you could follow them over years and seasons?
If you're the kind of person who will happily hole up in their apartment for an entire Saturday to toss back a whole season of Battlestar Galactica or The Walking Dead, might I suggest doing the same with the Honeycomb Trilogy? Mac Rogers's sci-fi epic first debuted in pieces in 2012, but it's getting the full Netflix-drop treatment in an ambitious undertaking from Gideon Productions. And like a good television drama, it's unputdownable. You will laugh. You will cry. And your butt will most definitely fall asleep. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)
The trilogy's first installment, Advance Man, initially appears to be a domestic dramedy. In an aggressively beige living room in suburban Florida, a husband and wife try to suss out the best way to parent their rebellious daughter, Ronnie (Becky Byers), and their timid but brilliant son, Abbie (David Rosenblatt). And, oh yeah: Patriarch Bill Cooke (Sean Williams) happens to be a retired astronaut who led the first manned mission to Mars, and he and his former crew have something sinister up their sleeves. As the play progresses, elements of sci-fi begin to seep into the kitchen-sink proceedings like slime mold, until the implications of Bill's plans for Earth's future become impossible for his family to ignore. This section is Williams's moment, and he's fascinating to watch as a good-natured guy with a charismatic cult leader hiding just under the skin.
Part two, Blast Radius, rockets us 12 years into the future, to a transfigured world where giant buglike aliens have taken over the planet (we never actually see them). But we're still in what remains of that same living room. A now grown-up Ronnie and Abbie find themselves on opposite sides of a guerilla war between the extraterrestrial hive mind and the humans they've subjugated. This is Honeycomb's ricketiest section, losing a lot of the vital humor of Advance Man and replacing it with a familiar post-apocalyptic doom-and-gloom. Still, it's riveting; brother and sister are each faced with impossible moral choices, and Byers and Jason Howard (as a conflicted man-alien hybrid) give especially powerful performances. Rosenblatt, unfortunately, is out of his depth as the aliens' chosen one.
Which brings us to Sovereign, the strongest of the three plays. Another eight years have passed, which means that Abbie and Ronnie have both been replaced by older actors (Stephen Heskett and Hanna Cheek). It's clear from the moment we see her onstage, seated in a makeshift throne massaging an old war wound, that this is Cheek's hour to shine. And she is electric, giving one of best performances I've seen all year. Experience and grief transform Ronnie into a battle-hardened badass, as wryly hilarious as she is deathly intimidating. She's assumed leadership over what remains of the human race in her home district, appointing bureaucrats to help oversee a society that, 20 years after the invasion, barely remembers how it once functioned. When her brother reappears in her life, Ronnie and her people hold a trial to determine his fate that has the heft of a Greek tragedy.
The trilogyhas its weak spots. Jordana Williams's direction isn't always as strong as it could be, causing some of the climactic scenes (particularly in Blast Radius) to take on a tinge of melodrama. But there's far more to praise than disparage here. Rogers's script crackles with wit and intelligence; as rounded as the world he's created is, it simply couldn't work without the humor that's peppered throughout. He's created a rich, varied roster of characters that deftly explore ideas about leadership, moral relativism and the human condition. Perhaps the real innovation rests in grounding a sweeping sci-fi epic entirely in a single domestic space that transforms over the decades, but never loses its familial intimacy. Though the action has global implications, Rogers never loses site of the fact that this is a story about one family working through their crap, just trying to find a way to coexist—aliens or no aliens.
Gym at Judson (Off-Off Broadway). By Mac Rogers. Directed by Jordana Williams. With ensemble cast. Running times: Advance Man: 2hrs 10 mins. One intermission. Blast Radius: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission. Sovereign: 2hrs. One intermission.