So awesome, in fact, that we are eschewing the formal review in favor of telling you why it's awesome.
First, the plot. Growl Bear, played Jonathan Dickson (Downstairs Cabaret Theatre's Leaving Iowa), is accustomed to begging for food from humans. He refuses to accept, at first, that the world is "going to hell in a handbasket," a phrase the bears overhear the humans say. The father figure of the cage, Growl Bear instructs two-year-old Timmy Bear, played by Nick Abeel (Indiana Repertory Theater's Holes), to go through the day as if it were any other. This means assuming "the position": a begging posture meant to convince rule-disobeying tourists to feed the bears. ("Wonder Bread hamburger roles" are agreed to be the best food of all.) "The position" is like chair pose in yoga, but with your mouth open. The goal, Growl Bear instructs, is "to look both menacing and adorable simultaneously." Timmy Bear, who would probably be diagnosed with ADHD if he were human, mostly looks twitchy and uncomfortable. He also looks and moves like a bear, even though there are no bear costumes in the play. We give director Kristin McCarthy Parker — Drama Desk nod? — props for that feat.
The wildcard of the play is Susie Bear, played by blonde-with-abs-of-steel Jenna Panther (The Lion Theatre's Thirds), who moves with ferocious bear energy. Susie did not grow up in a zoo, and has the appetite and sex drive of a legit bear. It is her duty, by default, to lead Growl Bear and Timmy Bear away from the zoo and back into the wilderness.
The play explores one major question: What does it truly mean to be a bear?
Just in case you are not yet convinced that this is the best play of the year (with $18 tickets, to boot), we compiled a list of reasons why BEARS is well worth your time. Lest there be any confusion, we're not being sarcastic.
1. If you fell asleep during your Philosophy 101 discussion of Plato's Cave, this show is a much better metaphor for enlightenment. Also, bears.
2. Sick of zombies? So are we. Now you have bears!
3. You can bring two friends and have fun talking about who is the Growl Bear, Timmy Bear, and wild Susie Bear of your social circle.
4. Three people dressed as people, talking like people, and thinking like people, are able to convince the audience they are actually bears. It's essentially magic.
5. Growl Bear looks like he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where he chopped lumber, studied philosophy, and intermittently worked as a barista. In other words, he looks like that other kind of "bear."
6. This is the darkest analysis of the social contract since "Liviathan." And Hobbes never really touched on our inner-bear urges, or zoos, or eating our own children.
7. "I'm a bear. A hungry bear, get me?"—Susie Bear
8. "You really are like some kind of fake bear."—Susie Bear
9. The dialogue is seriously legit. [See 7 and 8.]
10. The set design is seriously legit. (Props to Ashlee Springer.) We would run away into that forest in a heartbeat, apocalypse or no apocalypse.
11. If you play the drink-every-time-they-say-"bear" game, you will die.