By Eduardo Cossio
Hive Mind is the third production by Rorschach Beast, an emerging theatre company whose Bus Boy took the Theater Award at the Fringe Festival last year. Written and directed by Geordie Crawley, Hive Mind adapts and subverts familiar tropes to create a story interspersed with themes of social cohesion and interpersonal relationships.
It opens with police official Dale (St John Cowcher) and his partner Austin (Haydon Wilson) talking about the recent polls in the town of St Augustin. Austin has lost his candidacy to Jackie (Alicia Osyka) a pro-logging and real estate politician who they worry will favour economic interests over community values. More than anything, Austin wants to be a leader, and when he receives a beehive as a present he is fascinated by it, seeing a model of effective leadership and societal order. At the same time, the town is shocked by the disappearance of young Hayley Woodward (Elise Wilson) during an excursion in the woods. Dale is called to lead the investigation along with offsider Kate Collins (Charlotte Otton).
The plot follows the characters through a series of dramatic events, most notably Austin’s obsession with attaining a Beehive Mind, or ‘higher consciousness’, which makes him prey to visions of Hayley’s ghost. The sordid neon lights that illuminate the stage, coupled with the foreboding sounds of beehive drones, are leitmotifs during the elaborate dream sequences. Haydon Wilson’s portrayal of Austin channels his psychological distress into a physical paroxysm. His speech, once articulate and natural, is now reduced to repeating phrases like ‘step into the light… be the light’. The social and interpersonal breakdown of relationships is also highlighted; while Austin and Dale’s bond deteriorates, Jackie solidifies her power over the community by bringing in logging and real-estate deals.
The stark scenery is enhanced by an effective use of lighting, and the only prop seen on stage is a wooden box from which fog, droning sounds, and neon lights emanate, reflecting Austin’s heightened state of mind. The noir atmosphere has parallels to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; both plots feature a missing girl, vying political forces, and dream sequences of overt sexuality. There is also an intuitive police officer, Kate Collins, who channels agent Cooper as she begins her investigation by ‘tuning into’ the woods for leads into the case. In between scenes, a stately piano melody, whose upwards motion is suffused with longing and melancholy, pays homage to Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack for the classic TV series.
As with technical flair, Hive Mind also experiments with form. Like when Austin breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly, or when the whole cast engages in a counterpoint of voices where the meaning of words is obscured in favour of vocal textural sounds.
Alicia Osyka embodies the impertinent Jackie with a detailed and spontaneous performance. Jackie, who is media obsessed, is constantly fidgeting with her mobile phone, posting on social media or berating her political assistants over the line. Osyka brings a perky sense of humour that makes Jackie a likeable character despite her dubious morals, and St John Cowcher’s portrayal of Dale mixes resolution with fragility, making him the emotional centre of the story.
But for all its production values, the script is rather vague. It strings together a series of extravagant events to pack a narrative, yet provides little context or development to shape a convincing plot. Despite the shortcomings, Hive Mind is a work whose ambition and self-assurance bodes well for the emerging theatre company.
Hive Mind is appearing at The Blue Room Theatre from Tuesday May 1 to Saturday May 19. You can find more information and purchase your tickets here.