Thursday, April 19, 2007

PLAY: "Bed"

Photo/Brian Michael Thomas

Brendan Cowell's play, Bed, is a disturbingly comfortable work that aims to show, in a cycle of five intimate moments in time, what life is all about. There's the innocent youth, where Phil and Kane come to an awkward appreciation of their bodies, and then the amorous college years, where girlfriends like Daisy obsess over why they allow Phil to fuck them in the ass. As time passes, Phil settles down into a sexless life with Grace, baby and all; bitterness consumes him when he uses drugs to buy a live-in manservant, a straightforward dirty-talker named Drew; then finally ends his life in the arms of a woman, Flo, who he can at last love . . . almost, but not quite. It's a very unabashed play, but the lack of covers exposes only a firm mattress of text, and while the script itself is clever, it needs a larger frame than the sparse fifty minutes of a one-act to really convey more than a gloss. The show is more of a cat-nap than a slumber, a series of abbreviated moments memorable more for their writing than their performance.

Nick Flint, who also serves as a producer with director Ianthe Demos, is just an example of this love affair with the text. As Phil, he must portray not one character, but five, using the actor's physical and vocal tools to show a depth to this otherwise sketched man. But he loves the narcissistic angst of Phil too much to let go of the language: he is too articulate, and his words are too often the facade for him to hide behind. This falls in line, to some degree, with the way others perceive him--"You love with your hands in front of your eyes"--but as the playwright points out, "Love is not an argument, "and the monotonous portrayal of Phil makes it impossible to see that he loves or that he ages. Demos flows each scene into the next with only a change in the background lighting for transition--a wise choice for a small production--but without cues from Flint, it takes a third of the play to realize that time is passing at all.

If Flint fails to carom across the stage--if he prefers to smother his emotions with the vicious pillow-talk of his character--it is not from a lack of cajoling from his cast, and certainly not from an absence of motivation in the script. The homophobia-induced shame that drives him from Kane is apparent in the way Nico Evers-Swindell is able to say, without batting an eye, that he loves Phil. His arrogant libido is reflected more in Emma Jackson's obsessive fits of passion than in his treatment of Daisy. Sarah-Jane Casey's emotional reserve implies that she has something to hide: but his secrets are anecdotal, and at odds with Grace. As Drew, Nick Stevenson has the range of being electrifyingly vain, but it's his terror when at the mercy of Phil that shows Phil's previously unseen rage; not Flint's own performance. Is Ana Lucas, who plays Flo, the best actor of the bunch for managing to get Flint to really interact with her, or is her erotic freedom just more loosening by contrast?

Bed is a great idea for a play, and Cowell's writing is so mundanely poetic that it works (for instance, the phrase "I earth you," serves as both love and grounding, all while sounding more romantic than either). But the scenes of angry bondage, post-coital therapy, and sexless intercourse (the verbal kind) don't add up to much, and it's perhaps time to change the sheets. We need more dirty laundry: not less.

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