Review: ‘The Birds and the Bees’ is the funniest show you’ll see on stage in 2023

Pamela Haig Bartley (left) and Cavan Cunningham (right) feature in 'The Birds and the Bees' at Persephone Theatre from March 29 to April 23, 2023. (Supplied / Photo courtesy of Persephone Theatre)

Yes, it’s only April. Yes, there are almost nine full months left in the year. And yes, it feels right calling it now, and with confidence — you won’t experience a wittier, funnier, more literally laugh-out-loud show than Persephone Theatre’s The Birds and the Bees this year.

It started off slow Friday night, and a little awkward. There were a couple stumbles, and some awkward attempts to feel things out. But faster than any of the overactive-libido characters can jump into bed, Persephone Theatre’s final show of the main stage season reaches a climax of hilarity and incredibly-timed sex jokes.

The Birds and the Bees follows 38-year-old Sarah (Jenna-Lee Hyde) immediately following a separation from her husband. Sarah returns to her childhood home for a brief respite from her woes and must contend with her tightly-wound mother Gail (Pamela Haig Bartley), who is dealing with her own issues in the form of her declining honeybee population. Coupled with the blunt, long-time next-door neighbour Earl (Cavan Cunningham) and Ben, the hot young university student studying the bees (Ray Jacildo), the two women must learn to deal with each other as they deal with their personal struggles around intimacy and relationships.

And again — there are a lot of sex jokes. It’s impossible to over-emphasize this.

But even with so many quips revolving around making the beast with two backs, the script keeps it all fresh and funny. Canadian playwright Mark Crawford’s writing deserves credit — but director Anita Smith does a brilliant job of pulling humour and heart out of every line and every liminal space. The comedic timing is impeccable, and some of the best moments are those without dialogue as the actors navigate through each different characters’ comfort zones.

Let’s give kudos to those actors, too. It’s hard to say who stood out the most — not because of lackluster performances, but because every time a character returned to the stage it was easy to convince yourself that they were the best of the bunch.

Haig-Bartley is magnificently commanding as the self-repressed and traditionalist Gail, and Hyde’s multifaceted performance as the recently-separated Sarah brings some of the biggest guffaws and the most human moments to the stage. The pair are magnificent as mother and daughter, pulling laughter out of even the smallest interactions.

Jacildo is hilarious in every single moment, and brings a fun physicality to his comedy (the scene involving the removal of a bee sting mimicking oral sex was sheer ridiculous brilliance). And Cunningham is flat-out hysterical as the extremely confident and (perhaps a little too) open Earl, owning the scenes he’s in with an awkward charm.

Talk about earning a standing ovation — each member of the cast deserves their own personal round of applause for performances this good.

What sets this show apart is the absolute earnestness of the whole thing. There’s tons of innuendo and witticisms about (and around) having sex, but none of it feels forced.

Crawford’s script gives us some all-too-relatable dialogue and awkwardness. Everyone in the audience is going to see a little bit of someone they know in at least one of the characters fumbling through talking about — or participating in — moments of intimacy. It’s the most partial nudity to grace the Persephone Theatre stage in recent memory, and it’s also one of the most honest and reflective.

This is usually the time in a review where a few nits are picked with the production, but it’s hard to point at much that lessens any part of The Birds and the Bees. It was the cleanest and sharpest (and also somehow the dirtiest) locally-produced play to hit a Saskatoon stage in years.

There were stumbles over lines here and there, the performers were occasionally drowned out by laughter when they started back into their scenes after a big joke landed, and the second act could never hope to match the unhinged energy of the first.

But that’s really about it. The audience was having a ball, not just laughing but cackling gleefully as every joke landed with the pinpoint precision of a bee sting.

If last year’s season at Persephone Theatre was a promising first swing following the big COVID-19 cancellations, the 2022/2023 season has been home run after home run. Embrace the sex and the silliness and definitely go see this show — The Birds and the Bees is an uproariously funny play, and the whole team knocks it out of the park.

The Birds and the Bees runs at Persephone Theatre from March 29 to April 23, and at Globe Theatre in Regina from May 4 to 21. Tickets are available at persephonetheatre.org

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