Bees On and Off Broadway


I recently came across bees in an unlikely venue: a play called “Constellations” that revolves around the relationship between a physicist (Marianne) and an urban beekeeper (Roland). The play explores different perceptions of time in a way that is comprehensible to those of us who know very little, or nothing, about quantum mechanics, string theory, parallel universes and other theoretical concepts. But bees also have a role in “Constellations,” and in their own way, they get great reviews.

For one thing, the theater program quotes Roland’s wonderful description of honeybees. “They have an unfailing clarity of purpose,” he says in the play. “If only our existence were that simple. If only we could understand why it is that we are here and what it is that we are meant to spend our lives doing.”

In addition, the program handed out to the audience by Wilma Theater ushers included two black and white photos — a close-up of bees at work building honeycomb, and a picture of an urban beekeeper checking out hives on the Saint Ermins Hotel roof in Westminster, Central London.

And finally, while researching “Constellations,” British playwright Nick Payne noted that he spoke with urban beekeeper Steve Benbow, a well-known London beekeeper who has been profiled in numerous newspaper and magazines and is the author of a book titled, The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City.

Benbow himself might make a good subject for a play. His two grandparents were beekeepers, part of the inspiration behind his decision to launch The London Honey Company in 2004, according to an article in The New York Times. Inspiration for that venture also came during a trip to Paris when he visited hives on top of the Palais Garnier opera house and the Luxembourg Gardens.

According to the Times article, Benbow produces 10 varieties of honey distributed to well-known department stores (think Harrods) and hotels. He keeps hives on the roofs of art museums, including the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Victoria & Albert. In the “Constellations” program, he note that “honey produced at … the Tate Modern is toffee-like in taste and is very different from the citrus-tasting honey produced by the bees at Tate Britain, which forage on limes and giant acacias.” Clearly a man who knows his honey.

“Constellations” was first produced in London in 2012. In 2015, it moved to Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson playing Roland and Marianne. I doubt that many well-reviewed performances offer us such wonderful commentary – both poetic and educational – on bees and the starring roles they have in our everyday offstage lives.

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