On-demand destiny: Steppenwolf’s provocative ‘A Parallelogram’ examines the big questions



Marylouise Burke tells it like it is in Bruce Norris’ “A Parallelogram”

“You’ll see,” sighs the blunt older Bee, played by the delightfully dry Marylouise Burke, to her younger, more hopeful counterpart who’s begging for a preview of what lies ahead. The aptly named Bee has buzzed through time, courtesy of a nifty remote control, to meet up with herself. And, according to older Bee, it really doesn’t matter what you know about your future anyway, as there’s no changing it. It is what it is.

Younger Bee (Kate Arrington) doesn’t dig that. Not at all. And from there, her fate is sealed.

Bruce Norris’ darkly funny new play, A Parallelogram, draws its title from Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which states that two parallel lines will eventually meet, due to a combination of gravity and the curvature of the universe (I think? I’m no physicist). From this theory, it’s supposed that time travel can exist by navigating these intersecting cosmic lines — like a telegram, or, a “parallelogram.”

But, really, you don’t need to understand physics or the science behind how Bee is able to skip around in time — and also hit “replay” in certain scenes — to be absorbed into this highly enjoyable and provocative work.

So, back to the Bees. Younger Bee, as she examines her impossibly disheveled and embittered future self, is disgusted by the notion that we have zero control over our fate — we’re just bumbling down one of these parallel lines, and the butterfly effect that we all thought was true thanks to Ashton Kutcher is nothing more than a mere hiccup along the way. It also doesn’t help that a major devastation to humanity will be coming, hints older Bee in one of her many wonderfully candid asides to the audience, so all the petty domestic dramas ruling our current lives will eventually become inconsequential. So what’s the point? Smoke a cigarette, eat a bag of Oreos, and enjoy the ride.

And that’s the brilliance of Norris’ work in this engrossing and uncharacteristically accessible effort from Steppenwolf: you leave the theatre laughing, but also mulling over that BIG QUESTION: the meaning of life. Can we control our own fates, or are we just cogs in a wheel? Is Bee a victim of the machine of time, or a victim of a time machine which provides information that poisons her ability to control her fate? Or, is she just crazy?

“You’ll see.”

“A Parallelogram” plays through August 29 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre. More information here >

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