The Bear Loves Honey. Photo – Nicholas Karlin.

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

When Theatre [502] Co-artistic Director Mike Brooks told me that The Bear Loves Honey promised to be a “wild-ass” play, of course I was intrigued. A play about a Russian grave robber whose social life primarily consists of tea parties with the dug-up corpses of young women seems an odd idea, even in an age when Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan inspire our devotion as weekly television “heroes.”

This devised production, developed by Baltimore’s White Flag Performance Group and now on tour to Lexington, Louisville and Nashville, tells the story of Anatoly Moskvin, a Russian historian and self-proclaimed “necrologist” who was arrested in 2011 for digging up the bodies of 29 girls and young women from local cemeteries. The company’s press materials declare that “the skin-crawly-ness” of the material is balanced by “a deep well of experiential nourishment that is ultimately positive and connective.”

Artistic Director Sean Mahoney seems pleased by Mr. Brook’s characterization. “Yeah, that seems about right.” Discovering the correct tone during the lengthy rehearsal process, in which the play itself is formed or “collaboratively scripted” by the cast, separates the play from the ubiquitous zombie subdivision of popular culture that never seems to quite play itself out. The story does feature corpses as characters onstage and “It was a challenge finding out how to play dead people in the right way,” says Mahoney. Skin-crawly-ness indeed.

It is not that common for such a group to tour a show like this. But Louisville is home to more than one company that specializes in devised theatre: Looking for Lilith has produced several plays in such a manner, and Le Petomane shows are almost always created from a collective creative exploration. So for fans of those companies, White Flag should provide an instructive comparison.   

The Bear Loves Honey, from White Flag Performance Group

July 18, 19, 20 – 8 p.m.
Hosted by Theatre [502] at Baron’s Theatre
Whiskey Row Lofts, 131 W. Main St., Louisville, KY 40202
$15 general admission 
Tickets: ($1.52 fee)
Tickets also available at the door one hour before show time (cash only)