“The Apiary” is a dark comedy about bees and the women who love them

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April Matthis, Nimene Wureh, and Carmen M. Herlihy are sitting at a table
April Matthis, Nimene Wureh, and Carmen M. Herlihy in The Apiary (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Carmen M. Herlihy is sitting at a table and April Matthis is standing and leaning on the same table talking into a microphone
Carmen M. Herlihy and April Matthis in The Apiary (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Second Stage Theatre in New York continues its Next Stage Festival with The Apiary by Kate Douglas, directed by Kate Whoriskey and choreographed by Warren Adams. The play is a black comedy about a potential ecological disaster — the extinction of bees worldwide — and posits an unusual solution.

The setting is a synthetic apiary in the basement of a biological research lab, 22 years in the future. Two dedicated scientists, harried manager Gwen (Taylor Schilling) and her lab assistant Pilar (Carmen M. Herlihy) are studying their four declining bee colonies, trying to find ways to stimulate the queen (Stephanie Crousillat) into producing more eggs to counter the decline.

Another lab assistant, Cece (Nimene Wureh), says she is leaving for a new job, leaving an opening filled by the over-qualified Zora (April Matthis). Gwen is anxious about the future of the underfunded apiary and feels threatened by Zora’s suggestions of research paths to explore. One night, the three discover Cece’s disease-ridden corpse on the floor of the apiary — and the bees have been feeding on her, resulting in the queen laying eggs by the thousands. Further scientific inquiry along an unexpected path leads to success, allowing for increased funding for the department and increased corporate power for Gwen — until unforeseen consequences threaten to bring down the entire project.

Playwright Douglas uses the threat of extinction as an unusual comedic springboard to pose the question of the intent lying behind any scientific experimentation. While the three scientists may initially want to save the bees from extinction, the trail of inquiry morphs into unpredictable ethical dilemmas.

Under Whoriskey’s tight direction, the five actresses deliver powerful performances, deftly handling the twists and turns of the script. While all five actors are outstanding, special mention goes to Crousillat’s queen, expressing herself through dance alone, and Wuret, who makes all four of her characters complete and compelling individuals.

Walt Spangler’s lab set, containing a huge netted-off area filled with “bees” and within that a clear plastic box where the queen resides, provides an unsettling backdrop for the all-too-human story taking place in it. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design and Christopher Darbassie’s sound design provide the appropriate atmosphere as the play reaches its unsettling yet hopeful conclusion.

The Apiary brings life to the aphorisms “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and “no good deed goes unpunished”. Douglas’ script entices the audience with humor down an unsettling pathway; Whoriskey’s direction looks at the unforeseen dilemmas that cloud scientific exploration. It is a haunting yet comic play as well as a cautionary tale, superbly performed, and a triumph for Second Stage’s Next Stage Festival. I recommend spending some time in the eco-scientific hotbox that is The Apiary.

The Apiary is presented by the Second Stage Theater at the Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 W. 43rd Street in New York, through March 3, 2024. For more information, or to order tickets, go to 2st.com or call 212-541-4516.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.