Amy Hartman’s "Mad Honey" opened this past weekend at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in a production directed by John Maness. It’s a dark comic mystery with a story that the playwright has taken apart and left for us like a tantalizing jig saw puzzle without either the picture to go by or all of the pieces.
In a small Pennsylvania town in 1935, a postman finds a fourteen-year-old girl on his route bearing the fresh scars of a brutal beating from the father who has impregnated her. He uses an old family recipe for wild honey, a potentially lethal psychedelic mentioned in Greek legend, and joins the girl in poisoning the father. Amy Hartman’s play opens as the father is expiring. The mailman, Richard Perez, and the girl, Sam Paul discuss the situation, its causes, its ramifications and appropriate steps to take for quite a while. Then, not content with the rich possibilities and resonances of the Greek legends, playwright Hartman dips into Celtic lore as the superstitious daughter forces the postman to go through the ritual of eating the murdered father’s accumulated sins. The postman sends the girl out of town to his sister’s farm to have her twin babies.
The scenes in "Mad Honey" shift back and forth between the year of the murder in 1935 and a series of months in 1952. Here are just a few of the things that we learn in 1952. The baby girl was left with the postman’s sister and her husband. The baby boy, was placed with two female school teachers, Jennifer Whitney and Margot Morgan, who pass as a widow and friend. The postman cut off the too young mother’s hair, dressed her as a boy and put her to work as the hired man on his sister’s farm. Playwright Hartman is generous with plot some of which I’ll bet you can already guess and some of which would surprise you.
"Mad Honey" at the BPP is frequently frustrating, but still so rewarding for some memorable scenes and strong acting. Anchoring the show is the BPP’s Artistic Director Richard Perez as a very Irish postman. Sam Paul was the nearly overwhelmed, but often canny abused young girl. Millie Peterson was the teacher who took on motherhood and later a fascination for talking candidly with the image of Richard Nixon. She had her comic moments. Margot Morgan as the other teacher could light up the stage with her smile. Freddie Rodriguez in speech and action and, even better as a magnetic listener, had his scenes as the gown up boy twin. Anna Fiore showed amazing poise, even gravitas, as the grown up young mother who’s had to masquerade as a boy all these years. Jessica Ciucci was the feisty grown up girl twin.
Amy Hartman’s "Mad Honey" plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through May
You can find an interview with director John Maness on our Arts Interviews page .