Review: ‘The Honey Trap’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

The Honey Trap, a World Premiere at Greenbelt Arts Center, clearly has the best set I’ve seen in years: a mixture of ’50s kitsch, photos of ’50s-era entertainers, a record player console, plush-period furniture and a touch of the Rat Pack. Director and playwright Michael C. Stepowany has produced an Atomic Scare-era show that will have you sipping your martinis and being shaken and a lot more than stirred by its stylized acting and frenetic 100-word-a-minute dialog.

MK (Joy Liu), Beatrice (Joy Gerst), Flo (Tawny Rucker), and Mort (Brian Stepowany) watch the bomb blast in Greenbelt Arts Center's production of 'The Honey Trap.' Photo by Kimberly Curren.
MK (Joy Liu), Beatrice (Joy Gerst), Flo (Tawny Rucker), and Mort (Brian Stepowany) watch the bomb blast in Greenbelt Arts Center’s production of ‘The Honey Trap.’ Photo by Kimberly Curren.

There was much to unpack from the goings on in Suite 520, on July 4, 1957, in Las Vegas–a suite once occupied by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Reminiscent of the recent film “Bad Times at the El Royale” which also stylishly took on topics apropos to its period, the play centered around a “watch the Atomic bomb” party that included a black showgirl, Flo; her Hispanic bellhop boyfriend Mort, the son of a miner; an Air Force Colonel named Brooks, and his Southern Belle secretary, Lana.

Before the festivities began, two more characters showed up, giving Col. Brooks a major mountain of conflict: a female Japanese FBI agent, MK aka Mary Komino, who turned up to investigate the Mob-connected Col. Brooks, and his loudmouthed wife Beatrice.

The show raises many questions. Is Lana, aka Miss Guided Missile, the Communist Spy Svetlana Nesterova? Does Mort’s inherited land have gold under it? Will Col. Brooks get taken down by MK? Will Beatrice Brooks get put in her place?

The audience may find itself ducking and covering from the many verbal catfights and sexual double entendres about “Chinese take-out” and a “cabinet closed.” The verbal catfights between Beatrice, Flo, and MK kept the conflict at a high level.

Much of the harshest language came from Beatrice, played acidly by Joy Gerst (recently seen in Perfect Arrangement). Beatrice offered many zingers: “those lousy Russians”; “[there’s] Mexicans marrying Negros”; “ungrateful parasite”; “pencil-pushing lackey”, and many that were much more biting.

When Col. Brooks (the ever-marvelous Sandy Irving) said of Flo, “You are dynamite baby,” he could have been talking about the actress that played her, Tawny Rucker, who affected a brassy, New-Yorkish, showgirl accent and scene-stealing energy.

Colonel Brooks (Sandy Irving) meets FBI agent MK (Joy Liu) in Greenbelt Arts Center's production of 'The Honey Trap.' Photo by Kimberly Curren.
Colonel Brooks (Sandy Irving) meets FBI agent MK (Joy Liu) in Greenbelt Arts Center’s production of ‘The Honey Trap.’ Photo by Kimberly Curren.

Rucker and Joy Liu, who played the rollercoaster story arc of MK, both had mini-dialogs on sad racial incidents in their lives. Both actresses brought pathos to those scenes.

Brian Stepowany, looking like a young Jonathan Winters, was somewhat comical as Mort. Angie Bernazani gave her character Lana a penny-short of a dollar vibe in the brains department, with a hint of flirtatiousness.

Michael George Hartley, who did so well with his set design assistance of Bad Jews, surpassed himself with the cozy, ready-to-move-in set. Stepowany and Aurenna Komisar’s set dressing was superbly detailed, featuring pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Pearl Bailey, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. Producer and Costumer Malca Giblin gave Irving a well-made U.S. Air Force shirt. Tom Gill’s lighting evoked the emotions of dramatic scenes and physical fireworks.

There were a few problems: clunky blocking led to actors getting blocked from view at times and Brian Stepowany had inconsistently-applied Mexican makeup–only on his cheeks. The audience sat in the dark too long for some of the first act scene changes.

Plays like The Honey Trap are why I watch theater. This is a play for grown-ups. It addresses relatable issues. I predict it will have a growing and successful shelf life in the theater world.

Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

The Honey Trap plays through May 12, 2019, at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8770 or purchase them online.