Elevate Difference

A Parallelogram (7/1/2010)

Chicago, Illinois

In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines never intersect. In post-Euclidean geometry, all parallel lines under specific conditions—for example, placed on a globe—will converge. In Bruce Norris’ new play, A Parallelogram, parallelogram is the term used to describe a window of sorts in space and time. The protagonist’s future self visits her through such a passage and discloses details of her life and the world to come. The intersecting lives—that of Bee, her boyfriend Jay, and the garden worker J.J.—are sharply critiqued by future Bee (henceforth referred to as “Bee 2”) to comic effect. The relentless quality and sharpness of the playwright’s words counterbalance the poignancy of Bee’s predicament: informed of the future, she rallies her will to intervene, with results that are futile at best.

Marylouise Burke plays Bee 2 and wins the audience over with her depiction of the idealistic young woman transformed into a bespectacled, chain-smoking, oreo-gobbling, sweatsuit clad pile of cynical resignation. The primary benefit of aging, she confidently yet conspiratorially announces, is no longer giving a shit. Younger Bee (Kate Arrington) becomes an increasingly engaging character, moving from annoying to genuinely concerned and of concern as the origin of her conundrum emerges and is further complicated by Bee 2’s interventions. Tom Irwin plays Bee’s boyfriend Jay, a man buffeted by his personal relationships who breaks off the relationship under the weight of Bee’s apparent insanity. J.J.—the sincere and ultimately unassuming lawnboy—is portrayed by Tim Bickel.

Big ideas are bluntly addressed—Is there free will? Is love real? Does life hold any meaning whatsoever?—but the play’s most engaging moments lie in its precise comic timing and repartee. Norris shares explications of men falling in love with folding chairs, or individuals saved by parrot’s bites, and these specific sights brace the sides of this quadrilateral form. Anna D. Shapiro’s direction deftly renders repeated scenes gripping instead of tedious, and keeps baldly comic elements fresh. Todd Rosenthal designed a splendid set, a standard middle class condominium that spins to show a hospital room and back again. The quandary of the play is presented on its programs: "If someone could tell you in advance exactly what was going to happen in your life, and how everything was going to turn out, and if you knew you couldn’t do anything to change it, would you still want to go on with your life?" If my reiterated existence included another outing to the Steppenwolf to see A Parallelogram, I would.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, July 13th 2010