Now for Some Biology, Honey

The character of Roland in Nick Payne’s play Constellations is a beekeeper. A random and fascinating profession in that most of us don’t know any beekeepers, and yet if we saw one walking down the street in uniform, we’d recognize their profession right away. The script uses laws and theories of physics to illustrate the human experience in many ways,  established right away by the title and the very first bits of dialogue. I didn’t see the biological science themes at first, but once we dug in, the assignment of beekeeping as a main character’s profession is clearly more than a novelty.

Around halfway through the play, Roland cites the mating habits of bees among a list of reasons why he’s fallen in love with the other main character, Marianne. While the play describes mating honey bees with humor and elegance, the Black Hills Honey Farm puts it this way:

To mate, a drone approaches a queen from behind and grasps her abdomen with its legs. The mating act itself is brief. Drones possess genitalia that are larger in proportion to their body size than all other animal species except a few species of fleas. The drone genitalia are contained in the abdomen. When they are everted, a popping sound can be heard. The shock of everting the genitalia results in the death of the male, which falls over backwards and to the ground. At this stage the genitalia may be separated from the male and remain in the queen, but usually only briefly. Apparently the queen removes them herself and continues to mate with other drones. 

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You won’t see a re-enactment during the show, but it does highlight that stark contrast between the romance of humans, and the biological needs of these insects. What Constellations does so well is use contrast such as this to illuminate both sides of a story, whether that’s the differing opinions of a feuding couple or the limitless possibilities of the future.

Another connection I’ve found between the play and the science of bees is their ability to, in a way, reverse time. In the script, the story bounces between different points in time and dimension. As bees get older, if they perform the jobs usually done by younger comrades, their brains stop aging. The research into this area may be useful for discovering treatments to early-onset dementia. When you see the show, I think you’ll find this indirect correlation very interesting.

Next Stage and Knockdowndragout Productions launch their first collaborative venture with this production of Constellations by Nick Payne. Performances are November 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 at 8pm at IAO Gallery, 706 W. Sheridan, OKC 73102. Tickets are $25 at the door.

Photos by Eric Ward & Annie Spratt

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