Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Bereaved

Considering that Thomas Bradshaw has previously tackled slavery and alcoholism, his latest bit of exaggerated theater, The Bereaved, is rather unambitious. Sure, American families are increasingly callous and disconnected units, but why bother telling us this? (Telling is the wrong word: Bradshaw's overt playwriting is really just a good, long cathartic yell.) Then again, why not? The shocksploitation of familiar territory can be entertaining (as Brian Parks showed in last year's The Invitation), especially when it's uninhibitedly directed by someone like May Adrales. (We got your nudity right here!)

Things start simply enough, as Michael (Andrew Garman) and Carol (McKenna Kerrigan) suddenly roar at one another over the chores neither one of them do, but this is just a red herring, as is their subsequent squabble over how to address the large amounts of semen Carol's found in their son Teddy's (Vincent Madero) underwear. But these slices of life are just minor bits of dysfunction, and Bradshaw, as an impishly maximal offender, is after bigger game. Sure enough, our expectations are upset when, instead of flipping out, Carol merely notes Michael's ungainly mound of cocaine, taking a few snorts herself as Michael quotes from a sex column. It's the sort of creepy normality that Bradshaw does so well, an effect that's compounded by Carol's abrupt heart attack, and Michael's choice to hide the cocaine before dialing 9-1-1.

Without giving the surprises away (since that's all Bradshaw has, here), the rest of the show revolves around Carol's desire that Michael--a lowly paid adjunct professor--marry her best friend, Katy (KK Moggie), for financial support. This turns out not to be a problem, as Katy's seen Michael checking out her spandex-clad ass (he wants to lick the crack from ass to tailbone) and as Michael is all-too-willing to satisfy Katy's rape fantasy (even if that means going in blackface). Meanwhile, Teddy jumps into a relationship with his schoolmate Melissa (Jenny Seastone Stern), whom he soon accidentally impregnates (he can't come while wearing a condom). In turn, Melissa, with her rock-star mentality and fifteen-year-old idealism, decides to keep the baby, so long as she can still get her cocaine from the suave Jamal (Brian D. Coats).

Bradshaw speedily delivers all this (and more) with a rapid series of plot- and comic-heavy scenes. It's somewhat refreshing to dispense with subtext and simply say "Get an abortion" or to just segue from Michael pounding away at Katy to then show a sickly satisfied Carol in her hospital bed, drifting off. The lack of hidden facets to the characters doesn't diminish the surprising effect of seeing the characters actually doing what they're talking about, and the spry physicality that Adrales captures is what keeps us laughing.

And so long as you're fine with surface-level laughs, The Bereaved satisfies. But just as quickly as Michael remarries--the day after Carol's funeral--so too is Bradshaw's show forgotten. That such extreme images can be so quickly buried says a lot about how empty the show really is.

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