By Kendra Jones
A car mechanic, Manuel (Xavier Pacheco), and a lawyer, Johaira (Maribel Martinez), meet at a club, while Johaira celebrates her newly-earned degree and Manuel’s out with his boys–an unlikely couple, but an expected relationship.
The main set is the couple’s home, where we watch a play of conflict: dinner that hasn’t been cooked, video game consumption and conversations Manuel has with friends over this platform, dinner plans with friends and parents, Manuel’s mother who will inevitably move in and lead to further conflict. The presence of just two characters highlight each piece of exchanged dialogue and physical reactions. The relationship’s approachability immediately engaged me. It is accessible.
The audience’s reactions to humor and cultural references played a significant part in the play. These perfectly-paired actors launch the tone–comfortable and casual–making me feel as though two friends are jumping off each other, sweetly recollecting the moment they found each other. Bachata and dembow music styles are referenced in context of each individual going to the club–perhaps even the foundation of these rhythmic romantics hinting at the heartbreak that was to come.
I found myself laughing, turning to my significant other next to me, elbowing him when conversations or conflicts were relative to our own relationship. I appreciated how relatable their performance was—maybe too much, in a way that potentially everyone could feel connected.
Johaira embraces feminism, and she gets Manuel to read Bell Hooks.
Manuel immediately agrees to Johaira’s suggestion for couple’s therapy, and I am still wrapping my head around the commitment, confidence, and agreeance he demonstrates to working on their marriage, or eagerness to making their marriage work. They almost make a troubled relationship seem easy.
Manuel’s character is well-developed, and I couldn’t help feeling for him as the play continued. His character is likable; he is attentive, and trying; he finds success in his business as his marriage progressed, and as Johaira’s career progresses. This was not what I had assumed would play out when the two first met. Manuel’s character’s development and depth are surprisingly satisfying.
Obstacles continue to be pitched at the young couple: a miscarriage, Manuel’s mother moving in unexpectedly and not agreed upon, career struggles–the stress that a 16-hour workday puts on someone and their marriage.
I wanted an earned divorce, but a sudden outbreak, one fit of punching a wall, a miscarriage without the opportunity to discuss as a couple, didn’t quite earn it for me. When Johaira apologizes to Manuel at the end of the play for blaming him for her miscarriage, I wasn’t relieved or hopeful of their relationship; I was confused. I was left wondering if she had even blamed him at all, or whether she was perhaps blaming herself for the failed marriage. Had the characters’ own emotional obstacles throughout their lives been too much to overcome, too much weight on their marriage? It’s a play of conflict, a build-up of obstacles, but the characters never quite seem to overcome them.
Everything that could disrupt a day, or a marriage, occurs, and we watch how Johaira and Manuel deal with and react to each situation. I’m rooting for this dissolving marriage and left concluding that their emotional obstacles have perhaps become too overbearing, crushing a relationship that may have never established solid footing.
Bees & Honey is written by Guadalis Del Carmen, and directed by Melissa Crespo.
WITH: Maribel Martinez (Johaira) and Xavier Pacheco (Manuel).
Creative team: Shoko Kambara (set design), Devario D. Simmons (costume design), Reza Behjat (lighting design), Germán Martínez ( sound design), Dilson (original music), Teniece Divya Johnson (Intimacy and Fight Director), R. Christopher Maxwell (Production Stage Manager), Lori Ann Zepp (Production Stage Manager).
Bees & Honey is inspired by Juan Luis Guerra’s Como Abeja Al Panal; presented by MCC Theater in collaboration with The Sol Project.
A limited run of Bees & Honey is set through June 11, 2023, at MCC Theater’s Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at 511 W 52ndStreet in Manhattan.