Friday, March 25, 2011

Stressed Out On The Home Front

You know what it feels like: You turn the key in the lock, open the door, and you can already sense the tension in the air. Something's wrong. Really wrong. And it's going to stay that way, whether you like it or not.

From the anguished to the absurd, from the hysterical to the hypothetical, change is the only way out of a losing situation. The only questions are: Who will survive?  And how?

Tim Bauer's short play, Hot Spot (which was recently featured as part of the 10th annual Bay One Acts Festival), offers an interesting gimmick for its audience's consideration. Dale (Eric Reid) has been working as a pool installer in the Midwest, somewhere around St. Louis. His girlfriend, Michelle (Megan Briggs), has been working at a supermarket. They've each gotten stuck in a personal and professional rut.

Dale (Eric Reid) and Michelle (Megan Briggs) in Hot Spot
Photo by: Clay Robeson

Michelle wants to move to Southern California where, in addition to plenty of supermarkets, there might be more opportunities for Dale. He, however, is having problems with commitment and is reluctant to leave his home town.

Suddenly, a circle of light with magical powers graces their apartment. Whenever one of them steps into the circle, s/he is compelled to deliver a monologue revealing latent fears. One has hidden anxieties about lasagna, the other is worried about bikinis.

Michelle (Megan Briggs) and Dale (Eric Reid) in Hot Spot
Photo by: Clay Robeson

Directed by Rob Ready and produced by PianoFight, Hot Spot proved to be an interesting curtain raiser for the festival's second program of one-act plays. Credit Tim Bauer with an original idea and knowing how to work it and bring his play to a clean ending (which is often easier said than done).

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There was nothing clean or tidy about A Three Little Dumplings Adventure. An absurdist romp written by Megan Cohen that was produced by Three Wise Monkeys Theatre Company and directed by Jessica Holt, this play obviously needs some trimming. But where does one start to make cuts when nothing makes sense?

Unlike the well-disciplined children seen in plays like I Remember Mama and The Sound of Music, A Three Little Dumplings Adventure takes place in total chaos. Daddy (Ryan Hebert) wants to watch his favorite television show in peace and quiet. Mommy (Siobhan Doherty) is desperate to leave home and receives constant encouragement from a talking suitcase (Cooper Carlson).

A tense family moment from A Three Little Dumpings Adventure
Photo by: Clay Robeson

And then there are the children: three obnoxious, hyperactive young girls eager to work their parents' nerves to the bone. Unlike children that may be called precious little dumplings, these brats are actually three little pot stickers (Chinese dumplings) that fell out of Mommy's vagina in the delivery room.  The First Dumpling (Sarah Moser) arrived steamed. The Second Dumpling (Molly Holcomb) was boiled. The Third Dumpling (Megan Trout) is fried in more ways than you really want to know.

Sarah Moser, Molly Holcomb, and Megan Trout as the
three little potstickers from hell (Photo by: Clay Robeson)

And that's the problem with Cohen's play. While it is filled with moments of hilarity and absurdity, it doesn't really know where it's going. As a result, it staggers around the stage -- most rambunctiously --  in search of an ending.

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Ever since colony collapse disorder started making headlines several years ago, a great deal of press has been generated about the crucial role that honey bees play in pollinating our crops of fruits and vegetables. Several documentarians have produced feature films about the phenomenon (including Colony and Vanishing of the Bees). The latest entry into the field is the most entertaining of the lot.

Poster art for Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?

Although bees were highly revered by the Egyptians, Mayans, and Greeks, what was once recognized as a sacred partnership between bees and humans has devolved into a profit-driven industry. While other bee films focus exclusively on commercial beekeepers,Queen of the Sun: What Are The Bees Telling Us?  emphasizes the biodynamic and organic communities whose opinions are often overlooked by the media despite their profound insights into long-term issues (such as monoculture) that have brought about the recent collapse of the honey bee population. As the film's director, Taggart Siegel, explains:
"Queen of the Sun is for me, a deeply important, crucial and timely film. I first had the idea to make a film on the honey bee crisis, when I read a quote attributed to Albert Einstein (now in dispute) who said 'If bees disappear from the earth, then man will only have four years of life left.' This quote appeared on the back of every major publication about the bee crisis in early 2006. It profoundly affected my view of the future, for both myself, but more importantly, for my daughter."
Taggart's documentary features input from the required group of talking heads (authors Raj Patel and  Michael Pollan, physicist Vandana Shiva, botanist Hugh Wilson, entomologist May Berenbaum, and biologist Scott Black). These experts all help to explain the challenges bees face from malnutrition, pesticides, genetically modified crops, pathogens, and lack of genetic diversity from over queen breeding.

A bee working to collect pollen

However, it is the interviews with "biodynamic beekeepers" that will really grab the audience's attention. If one listens carefully to folks like David Heaf, Yvon Achard, Michael Thiele, Gunther Friedmann, and Gunther Hauk, one gets a less clinical and more devoted perspective on the importance of bees to the food chain.

Queen of the Sun has its fair share of eccentric beekeepers. Some are more than happy to explain the factors leading to colony collapse disorder. Others take a more mystical and/or New Age approach toward bees and their importance throughout history (the film has a certain "woo-woo" factor).

Most people are unaware that:
  • Artificially bred bees are malnourished on a diet of high-fructose corn-syrup.
  • Many are confined in plastic hives and transported thousands of miles (as they are bombarded by exhaust fumes) only to be forced to work in crops soaked in pesticides. 
  • Because of these conditions, exhausted and weakened pollinators become easy prey for mites, climate change, environmental radiation, viruses, air and water pollution, and the challenging effects of genetically modified crops.
  • In order for urban beekeepers to thrive, certain antiquated laws need to be changed.
Although Queen of the Sun has some great archival footage and animation sequences, what really shines is Siegel's spectacular nature photography and his glorious cinematography.  Here's the trailer.

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