Manitoba·REVIEW

The Birds and the Bees get delightfully complicated in Prairie Theatre Exchange romcom

Sex, relationships and the mysterious workings of bees all get pretty complicated in The Birds and the Bees, with often funny, sometimes heartwarming and thoroughly charming results.

Birds, bees and the complexities of sex make for good laughs in PTE season closer

Outstanding comedic performances from Robb Paterson and Mariam Bernstein bring laughs to The Birds and the Bees, a predictable but entertaining romantic comedy. (Leif Norman)

"The birds and the bees" is supposed to be a simple way to explain sex to kids. But in Toronto playwright Mark Crawford's The Birds and the Bees, sex, relationships and the mysterious workings of bees all get pretty complicated. The results are often funny, sometimes heartwarming and thoroughly charming.

The 2016 play, closing Prairie Theatre Exchange's season, takes place on a bee farm run by Gail (Mariam Bernstein). Her daughter Sarah (Paula Potosky), who breeds turkeys, has come home after her marriage, like many of Gail's bee colonies, has collapsed.

Gail herself is single — her husband has run off with the wife of the cantankerous but lusty farmer next door, Earl (Robb Paterson). Meanwhile, a young grad student named Ben (Tristan Carlucci) is hanging around the farm to study the bees.

So we've got two older singles and two younger singles, and we've literally got both the birds and the bees. Whatever could happen?

The complexities of sex, relationships and beekeeping produce very funny results in Prairie Theatre Exchange's The Birds and the Bees. (Leif Norman)

And yes, neither subtlety nor surprise are the strong suits of Crawford's romantic comedy. A lot of it's fairly predictable, although it does take a few unexpected turns, particularly in its more dramatic second act.

But what it may lack in originality it makes up for with heart and humour. Crawford writes some snappy jokes and finds lots of humour in the not-so-simple relationships between his characters.

And while at least a couple of the characters start from pretty stock types — bike-riding hippie grad student, grumpy farmer who hates bike-riding hippies — the characters here are fleshed out enough to feel like real people.

The all-local four-person cast make the most out of them, and show off great comic timing in Ann Hodges' production, which zips along smartly. They're a terrific ensemble. Bernstein gives a sharp and smart performance as Gail; Potosky is a sympathetic centre to the play; Carlucci shows marvellous energy and goofy charm as Ben; and Paterson manages to make just about every one of Earl's lines (not to mention his plumber butt) hilarious with a superb comic turn.

Paula Potosky and Tristan Carlucci are half of a terrific ensemble in The Birds and the Bees. (Leif Norman)

The two-hour (with intermission) play draws out its ending a bit and gets a bit bogged down in trying to drive home a profound meaning. That said, it's not quite as slight as it may initially seem — there are deeper points here about love and sex and relationships and, yes, bees.

But there are also lots of laughs to help us digest all that. As spring — slowly — makes its way here, this may be just the type of play a lot of us need: one that reminds us that some things die and new things are born, and that it's all a lot easier to deal with if you have some laughs along the way.

The Birds and the Bees runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until April 16.

PTE's 45th season looks at 'crossing borders'

Prairie Theatre Exchange has unveiled its 2017-18 season, featuring five plays centred around the timely theme of "crossing borders and making connections." Here's what's coming up:

Gracie (Oct. 11-29): PTE's season opens with a play from Governor General's Award-nominee Joan MacLeod about a teenage girl torn between the polygamous community she was raised in and the outside world.

Ubuntu (Nov. 8-26): A man crosses the world in search of his father in this piece collectively created by artists from South Africa and Canada that blends music, movement and storytelling.

Ravi Jain's acclaimed production of David French's classic Canadian play Salt-Water Moon comes to Prairie Theatre Exchange as part of the 2017-18 season. (Joseph Michael)

Salt-Water Moon (Jan. 24-Feb. 11, 2018): David French's 1985 play about the courtship of Mary and Jacob Mercer in 1926 Newfoundland is a Canadian classic, and this production by Ravi Jain had a widely acclaimed run in Toronto last year.

How the Heavens Go (Feb. 28-March 18): The premiere of a new play by PTE Playwrights Unit member and Fringe Festival fave Joseph Aragon about "faith, love and string theory."

Fly Me to the Moon (April 4-22): Irish playwright Marie Jones' comedy follows two cash-strapped home-care workers who come by a windfall through not altogether legitimate means, and their misadventures as they try to decide what to do with it.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.