THE MENSWEAR DEPARTMENT at Saks, the lobby of the Paramount
Hotel, the back seat of a limousine -- audiences for the Drama
Dept.'s production of ''As Bees in Honey Drown'' are likely to
feel they have been on a ''Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous''
tour of Manhattan. Yet it is all achieved by the director Mark
Brokaw -- a member of the company -- with nothing more than a
few cushioned stools and an ensemble of versatile actors.
''It took courage with this
play,'' said Cynthia Nixon, who performed multiple roles in
Douglas Carter Beane's satire about the fleecing of a luxe-hungry
modern Candide and his revenge. ''It's so much about the
sexiness of money and falling in love with fine china and good
wine. But the production is very minimal. Mark just assumes
that the audience will fill all that in.''
Mr. Brokaw had executed a
similar sleight-of-hand three months before in March, when he
directed Paula Vogel's ''How I Learned to Drive'' for the
Vineyard Theater. Performed on a nearly bare stage, the play
wanders backward and forward in time and space to tell the
story of a young woman's incestuous relationship with her
pedophilic uncle. ''Mark said to me right up front,'' the
playwright recalled, '' 'What would you think if I did it with
nothing but chairs?' I said, a little dubiously, 'Nothing but
Mr. Brokaw, she added, ''has
embraced what the actual magic of theater is, which isn't
based on spectacle. You can create a far greater spectacle
from actors and words alone.'' The director, 38, says simply,
''I'm distrustful when everything's already there.''
A handful of hits has made
Mr. Brokaw, in the gruesome parlance of show business, ''the
flavor of the month'': ''How I Learned to Drive'' has settled
in at the Century Theater after winning a slew of awards; ''As
Bees in Honey Drown'' is newly transferred to the Lucille
Lortel (with Amy Ryan and Bo Foxworth taking over for Ms.
Nixon and Josh Hamilton, who originated the ''Candide'' role);
and ''This Is Our Youth,'' Mr. Brokaw's acclaimed staging last
season of Kenneth Lonergan's slacker drama for the New Group,
is scheduled to open commercially in the fall.
As usual, it took about 10
years to become an overnight sensation. After graduating from
Yale Drama School, Mr. Brokaw came to New York on a Drama
League fellowship, through which he met Carole Rothman,
artistic chief of the Second Stage Theater. He was the
assistant director on Ms. Rothman's production of Tina Howe's
''Coastal Disturbances'' in 1987. The next year she gave him
his first New York gig directing ''The Rimers of Eldritch'' by
Lanford Wilson. But what put Mr. Brokaw on the map was his
1991 Second Stage production of ''The Good Times Are Killing
Me,'' a tough and funny play about an interracial friendship
between two girls by the cartoonist Lynda Barry. That, too,
bore Mr. Brokaw's trademark of fluid scene changes and minimal
A 6-foot-3 beanpole in a
red-and-white button-down shirt and well-worn jeans, on this
day the director looks every inch the Midwestern farm boy he
was, growing up in Aledo, Ill. (pop. 3,000). His
resourcefulness, aversion to expensive scenery and desire for
community come from a seven-year apprenticeship with the
Celebration Company, a small troupe in the Illinois college
town of Urbana. ''We did 12 plays a year with very limited
money and limited means,'' he said. ''It was really about the
actor and the space. It's semi-professional. No one gets paid,
the directors make very little . . .''
He grinned. ''Perfect
training for Off Broadway.''
New York Times, July 27,