If you knew in advance what was going to happen in your life and couldn’t change it, would you still want to go on? That’s the $ 64,000 question posed by an addled young women early on in the play, “A Parallelogram.”
Audiences at Bruce Norris’s’ darkly funny but frustrating 2010 comedy spinning around the mysteries and murk of relationships are likely to walk away with a different query: Is that all there is?
Alas, yes. Despite pungent performances all-around and a crisp staging by director Michael Greif (“Dear Evan Hansen”) that goes from bedroom to hospital and back again, the play leaves you wanting.
Bee (Celia Keenan-Bolger, flinty and focused) and her irritating boyfriend Jay (Stephen Kunken) are in the middle of a spat as the story launches. Grievances and stony silences fill their home. We learn that Jay left his wife and kids for Bee.
That scenario is common enough. What’s weird is that Bee sees and hears an older woman, Bee 2 (a perfectly prickly Anita Gillette, who also plays two more parts), in the room. But Jay can’t see her. Either can a sweet-natured gardener JJ (Juan Castano), who hovers around Bee.
Thanks to crisscrossing time lines and geometry (hence, the title), Bee 2 is Bee’s older self — and she has seen the future. Locally and globally things look bleak, she tells her younger self. Bee has reason to feel helpless and hopeless. But is Bee 2 really there? Or is Bee simply sick in the head?
Norris, a Pulitzer Prize winner for “Clybourne Park,” keeps us wondering. Leaving things up for grabs is one thing, but copping out is another. That’s what happens when Bee suggests being “nice to people” is a solution —as in, what goes around comes around. That’s a circle, not a parallelogram.
In the end, the play, which runs in its New York debut at Second Stage through Aug. 20, doesn’t square.