The widespread devastation of honeybees, as dutiful workers abandon their hives and leave their dependents to implode, is a key metaphor in the new play "Colony Collapse."
That sort of symbolism can quickly turn heavy, but playwright Stefanie Zadravec keeps it buoyant as she tells a tale of lost souls.
She finds sympathetic partners in director Jessica Kubzansky and the Theatre @ Boston Court, a company that Angelenos have come to rely on for a steady supply of exciting new plays.
Zadravec, a resident playwright at New York incubator New Dramatists, is best known for the myth-suffused drama "The Electric Baby." "Colony Collapse" is the first of her works to be seen in L.A.
A highly imaginative, not entirely realistic tone is set right away as a bee-like buzz separates into the individual voices of parents of missing children, who describe their child's disappearance.
The storytelling is then given over to the main action, but the parents keep returning to function almost like a Greek chorus because the central story is that of a child in danger of going missing in plain sight as the adults in his life fail him.
The setting is Oregon apple country, where a search is underway for a missing 15-year-old girl. She too is secondary to the main story about 18-year-old Jason (Riley Neldam), who shows up in the dead of night at the orchard where his estranged father (Chris Conner) and the father's second wife (Sally Hughes) are caretakers -- a job that allows them a new start after his release from prison and their recoveries from addiction.
A youthful act of revenge has poisoned the air between Jason and his father. Yet for all Jason's impulsiveness, he is, in Neldam's riveting portrayal, resourceful and compassionate -- an upright young man. He's had to be the parent to his meth-head mom (Paula Christensen), who, like all the adults in Jason's life, are missing children of sorts, ever on the verge of disappearing into fear, anger or addiction. He needs them, but they are little help.
To the story's texture of voices is added yet one more: that of the vanished 15-year-old (Emily James), who sunnily expounds on the world's mysteries, including the bee die-off.
In Kubzansky's hands, the complex storytelling finds the seamlessness, emotional resonance and magic that are characteristic of her work at Boston Court, where she is co-artistic director, and elsewhere.
Set designer Susan Gratch uses curtains of camouflage net to suggest tree trunks. In what would typically be a bucolic place, mystery deepens, foreboding builds. Yet the story is luminescent as well. This cautionary tale about a wounded America never quite gives up hope.
Where: Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 20.
Tickets: $35 and $39
Info: (626) 683-6883, www.bostoncourt.org
Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes