Sandra Ruiz in "As Bees in Honey Drown." Photograph by Daren Scott
When it comes to juicy roles, that of Alexa Vere de Vere is right up there. The con artist protagonist of Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy As Bees in Honey Drown models herself in part on an Alexis Carrington type, which should be all you need to know. Alexa, who faux-flatters and drops names hard and calls her prey “darling” and “lamb”, is a caricature come to life.
So Sandra Ruiz, who plays Alexa Vere de Vere in OnStage Playhouse’s current staging of As Bees in Honey Drown, can be forgiven for going over the top. That’s how the part is written. If Alexa ISN’T played over the top, then the Act 2 backstory about how she became Alexa doesn’t work.
The principal plot is that Alexa has identified a nebbish gay writer (Aaron Lugo) as the next target of her longtime recurring scam: find a hungry young artist who craves fame, string him or her along on some pretend project, and while doing so get the unsuspecting chump to spend thousands of credit-card dollars on her. After being beaten up and humiliated, the duped writer, Evan Wyler, wants to somehow get revenge.
For being more than 20 years old, this play is smart and, while not laugh-aloud funny very often, able to both divert and amuse. At OnStage where it’s directed by Bryant Hernandez, Ruiz so takes over the machinations that co-star Lugo comes off as too hopeless a patsy to conceive, much less achieve, a measure of revenge against Alexa. The supporting role best articulated comes from James P. Darvas as a tortured painter who knew Alexa as Brenda once upon a time and who originally helped her concoct her con.
At least at a matinee performance, As Bees in Honey Drown appeared to out-hip the attendant audience, some of whom were heard, louder than they should have been, wondering what was going on or even tut-tutting various characters’ behavior.
As Bees in Honey Drown continues through Feb. 10.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat