CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
'Bee-Luther' Goes Round and Round
By Dave Rosenberg
Let's start with that title. According to "Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang," the
term "bee-luther-hatchee" means "a far-away, damnable place, the next station after the stop for the
biblical hell; an absurd place . . . a mythical place." In Thomas Gibbons' thoughtful but argumentative
and spin-your-wheels play of that same name now at Stamford Theater Works, it also refers to the
title of a book written by a reclusive author.
The search for that mysterious writer and why the book was written is the crux of the plot. Shelita
Burns, an ambitious African-American woman, is trying to climb the rungs of success without pulling
up the ladder behind her.
Burns is an editor whose most recent effort, "Bee-Luther-Hatchee," an over-the-transom acquisition,
has just won a prestigious prize. The ostensible author is Libby Price, an itinerant woman who rides
trains "with a suitcase full of dreams." As she says, "I've been a drifter all my life. I had a different
kind of soul, a smoke soul. You try to grab it and it's gone."
Price demands that there be no publicity, no photos, no biography. But Burns will have none of that
as she pursues the author's identity while pursuing not only her own but that of her race. Burns, who
had been abandoned by her mother, quotes the poet Shelley to her best friend Anna: "If you take
away a people's literature, you take away their identity."
The cliff-hanging final moment of Act One leads to unexpected answers. Devastated by the
possibility of being set adrift -- cut off from career, self and ethnicity -- Burns spends the second half
dealing with the unraveling strands of her life and beliefs through "the infinite weight and volume of
other people's words."
Playwright Gibbons poses a number of questions, one of which has become increasingly familiar.
Without giving too much away, we're faced with the idea of a hoax and authors who appropriate (or,
rather, misappropriate) the lives of others for their own gain.
But where's the harm? If the events occurred not to the author but to a surrogate, does that make
them less valuable? What is an "authentic" voice anyway? Does usefulness outweigh deception, end
That these and other questions dominate Act Two are not, in themselves, what eventually sinks the
evening. Rather, it's that Gibbons, once the questions are posed, has nowhere else to go. His
characters kvetch and moan and argue, but the conflict is more repetitive than personalized. Lacking
wit and complexity, it sits there, resulting in head-holding and screaming on the part of Burns and
attempted reasonableness by her antagonist. We go round and round, but at no time do we actually
care about these people.
Melanie Nicholls-King is a formidable Sheila Burns who also looks great in the costumes designed
by Holly Rihm. Patrick McNulty adds a dimension of sincerity to what could be a smarmy character,
while Sydney Stone is a no-nonsense Anna. M. Drue Williams does better when her character is
younger than older (she's mighty decrepit for 72!), while Simon Feil is more effective as a widower
than a reporter.
Director Patricia R. Floyd maneuvers what appears to be an under-rehearsed cast around David
Esler's resourceful multi-tiered set, cleverly lit by the reliable Aaron Meadow. But
"Bee-Luther-Hatchee" is more worthwhile for the questions it poses than the drama it slights.
This review originally appeared in The Hour.