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A Parallelogram

Audiences should enjoy having their brain's twisted by this absorbing comedy. logo
Marin Ireland and Tom Irwin in A Parallelogram
(© Craig Schwartz)
Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum welcomes A Parallelogram, a sly scenario from Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park) that illustrates the futility and finality of human life. Two cast members from the 2010 Steppenwolf premiere join a pair of fresh artists, and as a unit, the four sell weighty ideas with sincerity and humor.

Bee (Marin Ireland) meets a mysterious woman (MaryLouise Burke) at the grocery store and wholeheartedly believes the older lady to be her in the future. The second Bee tells her of a forthcoming catastrophe, a virus that will kill billions. Future Bee does not present this future horror morbidly, but just as inevitability, one that cannot be prevented regardless of any choices we humans make.

Norris wisely uses this disaster as a metaphor and focuses not on the death, but on pondering philosophical questions. Norris also employs time travel to represent man's constant second-guessing of life choices, wanting always to return to the past and have a do-over. Though these science-fiction trappings could have heavy-handedly taken audiences out of the story, Norris' mastery of the human condition and his witty dialogue keep audiences engaged and contemplating their own life choices.

Bee balances her metaphysical dilemma with two flimsy relationships, one with Jay (Tom Irwin) — who represents intellectuality and monetary security — and JJ (Carlo Alban), who brings fiery sexuality to Bee's bedroom but little else. The three have nothing in common other than the fact that their names are all alphabetical letters. Norris links both of Bee's lovers by naming them essentially the same letter. If put together, the adoring JJ and the professional Jay may be a perfect husband, but separate, they are both wasting Bee's time.

Director Anna D. Shapiro, whose August: Osage County was a stinging reveal of family dynamics, keeps the absurdities captivatingly rooted in reality. She also physically isolates each character. There is little if any touching among the characters and they are rarely in the same geographical plane. This remoteness illustrates a society lacking cohesion — a society, based on Bee's premonitions, on its last legs.

Ireland is bewitching as the frustrated Bee. She portrays this woman's amusement at her ability to speak with her older self and the aggravation in her life choices having no impact. Ireland uses her moments of silence for comic effect. Shapiro's choice for Bee to amuse herself with playing cards is a strong symbol of fortune-telling. It is also fitting that Bee is playing solitaire, since she is alone even in relationships.

Irwin plays Jay as a selfish man-child, but ensures the audience understands that Jay is not malicious, just incapable of thinking of others when he makes decisions. Alban, as the gardener whose broken English and lack of education limits the growth of his relationship with Bee, brings a gentleness to JJ, particularly in act-one scenes where he sits and listens to Bee's stories. Burke, who, like Irwin, originated her role at Steppenwolf, is a hilarious reflection of Bee's future, a cigarette-smoking, Oreo-eating, nasty old lady who says what is on her mind. Her abrasiveness cuts like a knife.

Todd Rosenthal's set, which mechanically converts from a stylish condo to an antiseptic hospital room to a rundown version of the condo, gives the audience goose-bumps when it metamorphosizes before their eyes. All three rooms are also a collection of extreme geometric shapes.

An aspect of humanity is to expect that we have ultimate power to affect our lives. A Parallelogram takes that comfort away and shows how we unravel when faced with our impotence. Surprisingly, by doing so in a very funny manner, A Parallelogram plays all the right angles.


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