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As Bees in Honey Drown
Douglas Carter Beane
As Bees in Honey Drown was developed at the Drama Department. As far as I can tell, all forty members did at least a reading of it and I can't thank them enough. It was also read at Portland Stage when Greg Leaming was at the helm with the following cast:
alexa Kristin Nielson
evan Bo Foxworth
photographer, et al. Jeff Hayenga
ronald, et al. Kevin Geer
amber, et al. Kim Daykin
waiter, et al. Lisa Benevides
and I can't thank them enough either. It was then workshopped at the late lamented Sundance Playwrights Festival when Jerry Patch was at the helm. (Is there a curse on this play for the artistic directors that choose it?) Anyway I thank them, but not enough.
The play's first production was by the Drama Department, where I am artistic director (hey, wait a minute). It opened June 19, 1997, at the Greenwich House. Directed by Mark Brokaw, sets by Alan Moyer, costumes by Jonathan Bixby, lights by Kenneth Posner, sound by David Van Tiegham. James FitzSimmons was the Stage Manager. The cast:
alexa J. Smith Cameron
evan Josh Hamilton
photographer, et al. Mark Nelson
ronald, et al. T. Scott Cunningham
amber, et al. Cynthia Nixon
waiter, et al. Sandra Daley
1400076161|excerpt.doc They all made me look good.
Four weeks later the play moved to the Lucille Lortel. Produced by Edgar Lansbury, Everett King, Randall L. Wreghitt, Chase Mishkin, Steven M. Levy, Leonard Soloway, by special arrangement with Lucille Lortel; and with Bo Foxworth going in for Evan, and Amy Ryan going in for Amber. New actors continue to go on and understudy, and I continue to look good. So they're doing their job.
I give my undying gratitude to Eric for inspiring the first act and Gene for inspiring the second.
Finally, this play wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Mark Brokaw, Mike Rosenberg, Mary Meagher, and Edgar Lansbury. And I know it.
This play is written to be performed with a cast of six. The actors play the following roles:
alexa vere de vere
photographer, swen, royalton clerk, kaden
ronald, skunk, mike
amber, backup singer, secretary, bethany, ginny, a second muse
waiter, backup singer, carla, newsstand woman, denise, illya, a muse
Part of the fun of the play is the four actors portraying all of glamorous New York. I wrote it that way and prefer that it be performed that way.
New York City.
(A photographer's studio.)
(A seamless. A light shines on wyler, a handsome young writer. He is in his late twenties and he knows it. A flash of light as a photographer scampers around with a camera. A beautiful photographer's assistant, amber, stands next to a ladder sipping a glass of white wine.)
photographer: Life. Life. A little more. I'm sorry, what is it you do again?
wyler: I'm a writer.
photographer: That would explain it.
photographer: Why you're uncomfortable.
wyler: That's the writer's job, isn't it? To be uncomfortable.
photographer: Amber, lose the shadow on his face.
amber: (Adjusting a light.) Amber wants to be dancing.
photographer: Quiet, Amber. So-what did you write?
wyler: A novel. My first.
photographer: Amber, honey, more light.
amber: Amber wants to be dancing.
photographer: What's it about?
photographer: Your novel, what's it about? Don't smile.
wyler: It's this story of this guy who's in his twenties- (He is suddenly plunged into darkness.) Amber!!
amber: Amber says she's sorry. (The light comes back on.)
wyler: -and this guy is like overwhelmed with this conflict of fantasy and reality-
photographer: Wyler, you any relation to-
wyler: William Wyler, no. Nor Gretchen. My real last name is Wollenstein. And . . . well that's a little long for a book cover. And-you know there really are no, you know, Jewish themes in my writing so-
photographer: And you kept your first name which is Evan and- (He points at his camera, amber looks in and focuses it for him.)
wyler: Actually my first name is Eric.
wyler: But I figured with the W and the Y in the last name, a V in the first name would look so good and-
photographer: Well, you kept your initials. You won't have to change your sheets.
wyler: I hadn't really thought of-
photographer: Great. Let's lose the shirt.
photographer: The shirt. Let's lose the shirt.
wyler: Is there something else you want me to-
photographer: You look like you have a nice build.
wyler: Oh. I see. You're thinking in terms of a shirtless thing.
photographer: Right. Amber, lose his shirt.
wyler: You know-I just don't know if-And I'm probably way, way out on a limb here, but I was thinking more in the genre of like a pullover V-neck and a button-down shirt and, you know, kind of leaning on a stack of Proust and-
photographer: Filterless cigarette, long dangling ash?
wyler: I don't smoke, but right.
photographer: This is so endearing. Look. I don't want to put you down. I'm sure you have a very nice, trenchant, tortured, art-damaged life. In your exposed brick grubby railroad flat on West repel me street. Filled with filth and far too much Henry Miller and dank air clinging with clove cigarette smoke and nostalgia for Bennington. But, I'm here to sell magazines, you're here to sell books. So, lose the shirt. (A moment. amber is now at wyler's side. He thinks for a moment. The photographer goes over to set his camera in a different location. wyler immediately removes his shirt.)
wyler: Selling books is selling books, right? (He looks to amber for encouragement.)
amber: Amber wants to be dancing. (wyler hands his shirt to amber. The lighting changes, a fan machine is now on. The feel is now sultry. The photographer returns to the seamless.)
photographer: Now take your right hand and grab your left shoulder. (As wyler does so.) This isn't so bad, is it?
photographer: No. Not at all. Now . . . fuck the camera. (A flash, then darkness.)
(The Hotel Paramount.)
(Resplendent in a simple black suit, alexa toys with a strand of real pearls. A beautiful cape is draped over the back of her chair. A silver tea service and pastries are on the table. wyler approaches the table. alexa is now effortlessly sliding a cigarette into an ivory cigarette holder. She looks up, gently shaking her Louise Brooks bob.)
alexa: Evan Wyler!
wyler: Alexa Vere de Vere?
alexa: Lamb. I hardly recognize you from your photograph without your mammilia. Have some petit déjeuner, though be warned the déjeuner here is very petit, sit sit. (wyler does so.) I have the most shimmering new screenplay for you to write. I pray that you'll forgive me for not going through your agent but the moment I read your book and I found that you were listed in the phone book, I-
wyler: No, no, that's OK.
alexa: I loved your book, did I say? I saw the seminude photo in a magazine and just lunged for a copy. It is fabulous and I NEVER use that word. You have got to do this movie!
wyler: Thank you.
alexa: You are sans doubt my favorite new writer and, if Cheever is dead, you are my favorite living writer. The reason I called you is that I have been struggling-looking for the genius young writer to write this mouthwatering movie idea I have up my Gucci sleeve. David Bowie, no less, wants to play my father. He's a dear friend. David Bowie, not my father. Love this lobby, please. It's not so much a lobby as a lobby as told to Theodor Geisel. You see I want this film to be the story of my life, which is too entrancing, almost even for me, I mean here I am in the blush of my youth and I am working with Morris Kaden of Delta records, do you know Morris Kaden of Delta records, how did you come to be such an amazing writer? (She takes a sip of tea.)
wyler: Which tea are you drinking, the orange pekoe or the Sodium Pentothal?
alexa: Repartee! You are brilliant. God. I love writers. They always have the last word, because they know so many. Gore Vidal says that. I say it too. What do we ever get of any bygone civilization but the poems left behind. I'm part Indian, I know things. Do you think David Bowie is dark enough to pull off an Indian? I mean a red-dot Indian not a woo-woo Indian. Try the boysenberry, it's a revelation.
wyler: Have you ever thought of diagramming these sentences in your head before you speak them?
alexa: See, that's what I mean. Who else but a writer-they know so much about life, no one pulls the cashmere over the eyes of a writer. When I do my work in the music business I always say, "Let me have lunch with the lyricist," you know that I'm a record producer, but you know that. Mostly in England, do you love England?
wyler: I've never been.
alexa: You would love. Everyone is gay. Truly. When you say the queen, you have to specify. How they procreate is beyo-How long did it take you to write this debut novel, it is a debut novel please say, "yes."
wyler: Uh . . . yes? Nine years.
alexa: And it's ever so thin.
wyler: Well, I'm not-writing doesn't come easy to me. I'm not particularly good at listening to people and figuring out what's going on in their minds. Or summing up with a grand sweeping statement. But-
wyler: But I do know when to use a semicolon.
alexa: What you say is music to my ears, and I work in the music business, so-You're not having any tea. Let's get down to cases. I am overt with joy about your book. There's a movie there, I just don't know that I'm in a position to make it right now.
alexa: But I mean after our movie, who knows?
alexa: What I'm doing right now is taking all my connections in record and film-I work in the recording industry, but you knew that-which are legion-and combining them to create a production company. I feel I've had enough success making money for other people to start making money for myself. You're a creative person, I'm sure you know the feeling.
wyler: Yes, abso-yes.
alexa: My life has been nothing short of amazing. I mean I can't tell a total stranger three episodes and I must show you-(She opens the contents of her purse onto the table.) They are imploring that I make a movie of it. I was married off by my mother when I was fourteen-I had to lie about my age, which is to be encouraged, but not at fourteen-to the son of a significantly rich person. Then my husband died. I was penniless. Cannot find it-don't overlook the butter-and that's where I changed my life, with my philosophy. (She stops to take a pastry from the plate.)
wyler: What's that?
alexa: A brioche.
wyler: No, I mean your philosophy.
alexa: (She is now a hub of activity between her cigarette in a holder, her purse contents, her tea, and her brioche.) Well, I mean that's your job. As the writer. I only know that I'm living it. I need you to define it for me. Something to do with sketching out what you want to be and then coloring it in as it goes. Being what your dreams are, and . . . well, look at us now, I see your picture and just feel instinctively you know what I'm talking about. I read your book and now here we are at the Hotel Paramount over petit déjeuner and great lashings of butter and I'm offering you one thousand dollars a week to write the story of my life and-
alexa: Oh, God. Haven't I told you? I have absolutely no mind for money whatsoever, that's what accountants are for-(From within her Judith Leiber jeweled egg, she pushes aside pills and makeup and pulls out a wad of cash.) And agents, though I don't believe in agents, do you?
wyler: Mine is-
alexa: Let's not deal with them. They are such unbearable leeches. Why should she get a hundred of your thousand? I introduced myself. Here we are, one thousand dollars. (She hands him a thousand dollars in twenties and a couple hundreds held together with a rubber band.) I find that agents have no imagination. No taste for . . . possibilities.
wyler: Actually, I agree.
alexa: Waiter! Let's keep this entre nous. I believe in cash, I think in this flighty world it's the only thing left with any impact. Now I don't see this taking more than a few months, the info-gathering part and then we'll work out a juicy amount for you to actually write it. Remember David Bowie wants to play my father. Maybe Iman could play my mother? If he could be darkened and she could be lightened. (A waiter glides by.) Check please. I mean does this interest you in any way, shape, or form?
wyler: Does this interest me? In any way, shape, or form? Well let's see. I've lived my life making sacrifices for the moment when I would see my first novel published. I've made sacrifices, lived sacrifices until this moment-I'm living in a place CNN would casually dismiss as third world. The people who are my age who don't do what I do have homes and cars and-I scrounge for subway fare. So I have my nine-years-in-the-making overnight success and you know? I'm thinking, oh this is where they pull back the velvet cord and I get to meet whomever I want to meet and do whatever I want to do and I'm still looking for fucking temp work to hustle together rent. Because no one ever tells you about that little breather period between critical success and financial success. Does this interest me in any way, shape, or form? Yes. I would say this interests me in every way, shape, and form.
wyler: Just tell me what you need to know.
alexa: Only one thing. I ask it before any business relationship.
wyler: What's that?
alexa: If you absolutely had to sleep with one of the Three Stooges, which one would it be?
wyler: What? (He starts to laugh.)
alexa: No, really, lamb, the answer reveals your personality. I mean if you say Moe, I know you wish to be dominated-(wyler laughs harder.) Which I, of course, am incapable of, and if you say Larry, well, I mean, God help you.
wyler: I'm just trying to think of a situation where I would absolutely have to sleep with one of the Three Stooges.