The Bee is a co-production of the Japan Society and the Under the Radar Festival.
Mr. Ido (Kathryn Hunter) arrives home one day to find that his family has been taken hostage by an escaped murderer, Ogoro (Glyn Pritchard), whose only demand is that he be allowed to talk to his family. When the doddering detective Dodoyama (Clive Mendus) proves to be of no assistance, he tracks down Ogoro's wife (Hideki Noda) and son, and takes them hostage, refusing to let them go until his own family is released. What follows in The Bee is both a mad and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) dance, with the ridiculousness of violence on full display as Ido and Ogoro prove, as most humans will, that they are more similar than different. Further amplifying the effect is Miriam Buether's set, a non-judgmental glass house and its starkly mirrored walls, along with Hideki Noda's antic direction. (In addition to starring, Noda also co-wrote the show with Colin Teevan, based on a story by Yasutaka Tsutsui).
For the first half of the show, language and meaning are on trial, as the media and detectives provide their particular brands of illogic. The reporters insist that "People don't want reason, they want drama." As for the detectives, they are immature and sexist, and Dodoyama is a bureaucrat, through and through. He can only do the right thing if he's threatened, because a threat -- which is the wrong thing -- allows him to skirt his regular protocols, which are to do nothing. Double-talk, as you'd expect, comes up a lot:
DODYAMA: We shall resolve the situation before anyone is mailed or killed.By the more stylized second half, actions themselves are what come under the microscope. Ido and Ogoro are literally mirrored in several sequences, and what follows is a series of escalating and devolving cycles in which Ido proves his seriousness by mailing the fingers of Ogoro's son and wife to Ogoro, just as Ogoro does the same to Ido, until a point is reached at which Ido is, for all intents and purposes, cutting off his own son's fingers. And this routine, not so different from that of a ruthless salaryman, when you get right down to it, leads Ido to realize that he's not at all uncomfortable raping another man's wife -- in fact (and in verse!): "It only adds to my thrill, the thought that my own wife is, at this same time, most probably, being raped by Ogoro, against her will." The denouement is even more macabre: after running out of fingers, Ido steels himself to begin cutting off his own.
IDO: Maimed or killed?
DODOYAMA: Don't twist my words.
IDO: But you said maimed or killed.
DODOYAMA: I'm saying not to worry.
IDO: But you said maimed or killed.
DODOYAMA: I'm saying it won't come to that. Most probably.
However, while the first half of The Bee coasts on wordplay, chaotic energy, and the absurdity of the premise, the second half, which is largely performed through devolving actions, makes its point so immediately that it's a bit tiresome to then sit through to the bitter end. Adding to this complication is the symmetry-breaking metaphor of a bee, which is trapped in the house with Ido, and which Ido fears above all else, as well as Ogoro's wife's inexplicable choice to remain a victim, though she has ample opportunity to escape and defend herself. It's one thing for her to be thrilled by this masculine stranger, for this stripper to not have to think for herself; it's another to allow Ido to kill her and her son. These psychological conditions exist, but because they're unexplored here, they distract from the central theme. (And we've already got the gender-swapping to distract us.) In other words, The Bee floats for so long that at times it fails to sting.