A parallelogram has four sides, containing two pairs of parallel lines of equal length. It’s clear-cut, finite, and presumably easy to comprehend in geometry class. A Parallelogram—the latest play from Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris—is anything but.
At a recent press event for the play’s New York premiere at Second Stage, Tony nominee Anita Gillette extends her arms in the air, pointing in various directions as she contemplates the physics behind the world of the play: “It’s all based on time—when things happen. If something happened back in the past, it could still be happening now, because the line goes out into time. It’s infinite, the length of these timelines. And then, another line will come from here and somewhere, eventually, they cross.”
If a study on the infinite complexities of the universe from Anita Gillette is too much to grasp, consider the literary and pop culture-friendly pitch from three-time Tony nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger: “I’ve been describing it as Our Town meets Black Mirror.”
Expanding on the new play’s similarities between both Thornton Wilder’s American Everyman story and the anthology series of technology-driven, often dark cautionary tales, Keenan-Bolger says, “Not unlike Our Town, it’s able to go through time so that my character can reflect on different moments in her life and try things over again. Bruce’s worldview is a little more pessimistic than Thornton Wilder’s, so it’s a bleaker outcome. But it’s really asking the same questions.”
As Keenan-Bolger and Gillette’s character names (Bee and Bee2/Bee3/Bee4, respectively) indicate, the two share a mysterious bond that unravels throughout the play. Keenan-Bolger describes the process of exploring that dynamic alongside Gillette as “inspiring,” adding, “If I have the brain space, humor, and rigor that Anita has when I’m 80, I’m going to feel pretty fucking good about myself.”
She recalls an early rehearsal, when Gillette explained she was studying her mannerisms so she could mirror her. “I was like, “Ma’am, I’ll be observing you,’” Keenan-Bolger says. “That’s how the hierarchy goes. I’ll go to you; you don’t come to me!”
The two co-stars both acknowledge the timeliness of the piece, despite it defying the very convention of time. “It’s a comment on our world now, what our world might be in the future and how far—or not—we’ve come from yesteryear,” says Gillette.
“In 2017,” Keenan-Bolger notes, “taking ideas and people’s perspectives that don’t align with ours and trying to metabolize them is important… [The play] is going to make a lot of people really frustrated, and make them feel, ‘I don’t want to think about the world that way.’ But this play is so funny that it makes it easier to look at a larger picture.”
Yet while neither Our Town nor Black Mirror are full of laughs, both stars emphasize the humor of Norris’ work.
“It’s a lot to grasp,” Gillette admits, “but it’s funny as hell. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be in it.”
Cast and Creatives of Second Stage’s A Parallelogram Meet the Press June 29
A Parallelogram, directed by Michael Greif, also stars Tony nominee Stephen Kunken and Juan Castano. Performances begin July 11 at Off-Broadway’s Tony Kiser Theatre, where it will officially open August 2.