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Theatre review: The Birds & The Bees (and that messy thing called love)

The Arts Club Theatre Company brings us another rural comedy from Canadian playwright Mark Crawford

Following the success of its production of Mark Crawfords’ Bed & Breakfast last year, the Arts Club Theatre Company presents another of the Canadian playwright’s rural comedies with The Birds & The Bees. And while Crawford follows much of the same winning formula from B&B, this time he does go a little deeper into the country.

The action and laughs take place on Gail’s bee farm. A woman “of a certain age,” Gail has been single for some years after her husband ran off with the neighbour’s wife. Daughter Sarah, a turkey farmer, turns to mom as Sarah’s marriage starts to fall apart, much like the beehives in mom’s backyard.

But Gail isn’t so keen on having Sarah back in the house, having recently taken up a “no strings attached” relationship with the neighbour. Also on the scene is a young grad student who is just as interested in Sarah as he is in studying Gail’s bees.

The result is a predictable recipe for some complicated relationships, and it is within its inevitabilities that is the only downfall in this charming comedy.

Sure, there is an attempt into more philosophical territory, with a sprinkling of science about the decline of the bee population. And while some may not see Sarah’s dramatic arc coming in act two, like B&B, there remains a sitcom vibe more easily digestible in 22-minute bites than in the 2+ hours on stage. To her credit, director Lauren Taylor helps immensely by keeping the action moving at a rapid clip.

Having some of the hallmarks of a traditional bedroom farce, Crawford and director Taylor resist the urge to slam doors (despite four being available). And while there are most definitely the requisite odd pairings and a tiny bit of risque humour, what elevates The Birds & The Bees is Crawford’s ability to breath life into these stock characters.

Much of that success also comes from the cast Taylor has assembled, who work wonders with the material.

Starting with the fearlessness of both Susinn McFarlen and Tom McBeath as the older couple, their younger counterparts, played by Dawn Petten and Christopher Allen, also skilfully sidestep any potential cliches.

Petten is a perfect counterpoint as Sarah to Allen’s Ben. Like the older couple, the two create believable sparks. And while the younger two get to show off with some hilarious physical comedy, it is Allen who gets the most laughs from some of his antics.

It is not Allen’s first time with the material, and it shows. Previously directed by the Arts Club’s artistic director Ashlie Corcoran in her final show at Thousand Islands Playhouse before moving to Vancouver, is it any wonder Allen makes his debut here. Local directors and producers should take note to ensure this is not the last time we see him on a Vancouver stage.

om McBeath, Dawn Petten, and Susinn McFarlen in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mark Crawfords' The Birds & The Bees. Photo by Moonrider Productions.
om McBeath, Dawn Petten, and Susinn McFarlen in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mark Crawfords’ The Birds & The Bees. Photo by Moonrider Productions.

Ted Roberts provides a cut-away of the upper half of the family home, and while you may wonder why it only snows on one side of the house at a pivotal moment, it works well as the playground for the actors. Sammie Hatch gives us snippets of music that may be a little on the nose (Shania Twain, anyone?) but helps with the brief transitions.

Look up, and you can see Michael K Hewitt’s handiwork with what appears to be way more instruments than necessary for the Granville Island Stage. But they all work in perfect harmony to light every nook of Robert’s set.

Like last year’s rural romp, The Birds & The Bees may not break a lot of new ground, but if you liked Bed & Breakfast, there is a really good chance you’re going to find some pleasures here as well.

The Birds & The Bees by Mark Crawford. Directed by Lauren Taylor. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) until October 26. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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