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Can You Survive the Alien Cockroach Invasion?
By DIEP TRAN
Tuesday, November 03, 2015  •  
Tue Nov 3, 2015  •  
Off-Off Broadway  •   0 comments Share This
"I designed the kind of invasion that I knew wouldn't survive for even two days."
Inside the sci-fi epic The Honeycomb Trilogy

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What scares the hell out of you? For playwright Mac Rogers, it's insects. That's why, for his three-play epic The Honeycomb Trilogy, he has nine-foot cockroaches take over the planet.

"I basically designed the kind of invasion and occupation that I knew I wouldn't survive for even two days," he says.

The Honeycomb Trilogy — which is comprised of the plays Advance Man, Blast Radius, and Sovereign — takes place over 20 years. It follows Ronnie and Abbie, a brother and sister, from their teenage years before the takeover all the way into their cynical mid-30s, when they've landed on opposite sides of a bug-human war. (Ronnie favors the human resistance, while Abbie supports the insect overlords.)

Back in 2012, Gideon Productions presented the individual plays to critical acclaim and sold-out houses. For the remount, playing at the Gym at Judson Church through November 14, the company is staging the shows on separate nights and also as a marathon on the weekends. The total runtime is six and a half hours (with intermission/dinner breaks), which will be no problem for anyone who's taken to binging sci-fi/fantasy fare such as Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. (Rogers credits TNG's evil Borg as the inspiration for his alien bugs.)

Sitting in a cafe, Rogers and Honeycomb Trilogy director Jordana Williams talk with geeky enthusiasm about both science fiction and the theatre. For them, the trilogy is a way to plop sci-fi into the American living room, that most cherished setting of the stage.

"I really, really wanted it to be the American living room exploded," says Rogers.

Chimes in Williams: "Literally and figuratively."

Indeed, all three plays take place on a single living room set that gets more and more dilapidated as the story progresses. In Advance Man, we see a modest Florida home with pristine white walls. In Blast Radius, it becomes a safe haven for pregnant women. And finally in Sovereign, the space is a courtroom, with benches instead of a sofa.

"I was experimenting with different styles of theatre with each play," says Rogers. "The first play is the American living room. The second play was inspired by the Shakespearean pastoral. And in part three, as soon as I knew it was going to be about older Abbie and Ronnie and what happens to them – well that's Greek tragedy. That's a hubristic ruler in twilight, facing all of the chickens coming home to roost."

A scene from "The Honeycomb Trilogy"
A scene from "The Honeycomb Trilogy"

Directing such a mammoth work was no easy feat for Williams, who had to juggle three very different genres of drama without losing the sci-fi edge.

"I feel like it's 85 percent emotional truth and 15 percent genre sauce," she says. "My goals are always to get all the actors invested and 'in' and believing it and to be truthful as much as possible and hope that they'll take the audience with them. And then there's the other stuff, like how do you have an actor carry an eight-foot-long insectoid alien leg onstage?"

However, the plays aren't just for sci-fi fans. Rogers emphasizes that despite the extraterrestrial overtones, they're really about family, and the dominion of love over hate. They're also about a world very similar to our own, wrecked by global warming and human over-consumption. Plus, those giant roaches are convinced they know how to save humanity from itself, which might sound familiar to anyone who follows current events.

"There's an awful lot, in the Honeycomb Trilogy, of people who are pretty sure they know how to fix someone else's life," says Rogers. "Nothing in this play is intended to be a direct metaphor for a specific thing in the world, but there's no doubt that during a lot of the time that I was writing it—being how the Iraq War was framed—it was a lot of, 'We're coming to liberate you and give you a better life.'"

For Williams, that's the genius of the trilogy, which allows Gideon Productions to tackle contemporary issues without being partisan and (pardon the pun) alienating.

"If you write a play that's about a contemporary issue, particularly a geopolitical one, then everybody comes in on whatever side they're on, and it's virtually impossible to break through that," she says. "But what you can do is put a remove in. We used to talk about sci-fi as a prism. It's definitely based on some real stuff and just distorts it enough that you can listen to each of the characters with fresh ears."

Whether audiences side with Ronnie and Abbie is up to them. Williams and Rogers are mum about who is in the right, and those who come to Honeycomb Trilogy can expect a healthy debate.

"Some people consider playwriting a form of activism, but for me it's a giant act of confusion," says Rogers.

Exclaims Williams: "That's your quote right there!"

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TDF Members: At press time, we had discounted tickets for The Honeycomb Trilogy. Click here for all our current offerings. (Search "honeycomb" to find these plays.)

Follow Diep Tran at @DiepThought. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Photos by Deborah Alexander. Top photo: Hannah Cheek (center) and the cast of the Honeycomb Trilogy




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