True art often goes unrecognized in its time, which is why it’s important to shower adulation upon artist provocateurs and the masterpieces they create, lest they be dissuaded by the plethora of plebeians who populate this wretched earth.
Royal Jelly, written and directed by Paul Cameron Hardy, is one such visionary work. Some might call Royal Jelly “stupid,” “pretentious,” “obscene,” “aimless,” “incoherent,” or “an unabashed celebration of bestiality,” but that’s their problem. Just as an eighth-grader may fail to comprehend the subtle wordplay of a Shakespearean sonnet, or a Republican senator might miss the veiled religious criticism of that Andres Serrano picture where a crucifix is submerged in urine, the average theater-goer cannot begin to comprehend the sub-subliminal wit of Royal Jelly, a play that will surely go down in history as the The Velvet Underground and Nico of theatrical representations of insect coitus.
Ordinarily, I would include a brief synopsis of the play’s plot, but I am afraid that terms such as “plot synopsis” simply do not apply to Royal Jelly. Following in the footsteps of James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, and Horse Ebooks, playwright Paul Cameron Hardy has chosen to eschew such tired narrative conventions as three-act structure, character arcs, or anything even tangentially related to plot structure. Events occur in Royal Jelly, of course–I counted at least three (though that number may go down on a second viewing)–but P.C. Hardy, valiantly refusing to pander to the facile whims of philistines, goes above and beyond in scrubbing his script of anything remotely resembling a story.
The play’s genre is as pleasantly nebulous as its plot. Royal Jelly was described to me as an absurdist comedy, but I spy some minimalist influences there as well, in the sense that its comedic content is minimal. But in researching this article, I found that P.C. Hardy’s previous play, MOPE, was a scintillating dissection of the adult film industry, and I had a revelation. Royal Jelly is the genesis of a new cross-genre altogether: absurdist pornography.
Consider the structure of your average adult video, which typically alternates between irrelevant dialogue and simulated erotica. Royal Jelly appropriates the porn-plot-porn-plot narrative non-structure of the adult video industry for its absurdist ends, alternating between breathless monologues of zero significance which would leave Samuel Beckett floored and wordless pantomimes of animal coitus which would leave Jane Goodall flustered.
It was an unforgettable experience for audience and actor alike. Indeed, as the play ambled towards its conclusion (insofar as this non-linear non-standard non-narrative play could be considered to have a “conclusion”), I came to sympathize with the trio of actors (Patrick O’Konis, Dana Chavez, and Augustus Cook II) who spent a full 75 minutes standing paralyzed stage center, unable to speak and covered in vines. As they were subjected to endless monologues, molested by women dressed as bees, and urinated upon by a dog (Ahsan Ali, who dives into the role with admirable yet concerning aplomb), I found myself mesmerized by their pleading eyes and gazes of abject despair. And if the dumbfounded stares of the people sitting around me were an indication, the audience was too.