Considering we humans spend about a third of our lives sleeping, it’s only logical that the lone location for Bed, the world premiere play that opened this weekend in Los Angeles, is, you guessed it—a bed. Written by Sheila Callaghan, directed by Jennifer Chambers, and presented by the Echo Theater Company, Bed examines a dysfunctional relationship over the course of ten years, incorporating original music and just as much racy content you’d expect, considering the setting.
When we first meet Holly (Kate Morgan Chadwick), she is struggling to crawl her way into bed in the midst of a drunken stupor. Holly is unabashedly a mess—she drinks too much, her life is in permanent disarray, and she is a survivor of sexual abuse, a trauma she has never really dealt with. All of this is presented up front when she meets Cliff (TW Leshner), a friend of a friend who starts out as a random hook-up and grows into much more. Cliff is also flawed, but unlike Holly, who is incredibly upfront about her shortcomings, his demons are revealed slowly. They are both artsy—Holly is a gifted singer/songwriter (the show features a couple original songs by Sophocles and Maxwell Gualtieri) and Cliff is a struggling writer in theory, bartender in actuality. Although there’s no apparent reason it should aside from their sexual chemistry, their relationship works, and the audience watches it evolve as the play races through a decade’s worth of time.
The staging and set design (Se Oh) of Bed are quite inspired and impressive. The titular piece of furniture has a hidden trap door that enables props and occasionally people to appear seemingly out of nowhere, making for some cool reveals. All of the costumes and props are strewn about the set, blending right into the chaos of Holly’s life and making it so the actors rarely need to leave the stage. Signs posted as you enter the theater warn of sexual content and partial nudity, and they are not exaggerating—this play is definitely for mature audiences, and never shied away from depicting Holly and Cliff’s intense sexual relationship.
The graphic, physical nature of the piece truly requires full commitment on the part of the actors, and Chadwick and Leshner certainly do not disappoint. Chadwick in particular has a magnetic stage presence, managing to humanize a very eccentric character while still embracing Holly’s raw energy and many quirks. Leshner’s character is the more reserved of the two, but he plays off Chadwick beautifully, his Cliff the yin to Holly’s yang. Johnathan McClain rounds out the cast, playing a third character whose identity I will not spoil.
Holly is so larger than life that I found myself needing to suspend disbelief to accept her as a woman capable of achieving all that she does throughout the course of the play. It almost does not seem possible that someone who finds candy canes in her bed in the summer and is often drunk before noon could become a very successful musician and mother, yet she does. That’s not to say that she learns or evolves over the course of the play—ultimately, my biggest problem with Bed is that neither main character changes or arcs in a meaningful way. In reading comments by Callaghan, I understand this may be the point—”it’s not about people learning from their mistakes or changing; it’s about being able to accept one’s nature, and the natures of the people we love,” she said when describing her play. While that is certainly a valid aspect of human nature to explore, I find it a bit dissatisfying in terms of characters you spend 90 minutes observing. Personally, I want to see a protagonist take something away from their journey, especially when it’s as eventful and lengthy as the ones portrayed here, and neither Holly nor Cliff really showed any growth.
The play mostly had me until its final scene, which I found to be confusing and ultimately out of character—at least for Cliff, whom I had thought I understood as a person by that point. While I mostly understood the rather heavy-handed metaphors, I was left with a lot of questions regarding what was actually, physically happening, and this took me out of what was clearly meant to be the emotional climax of the piece. The show is at its best in the simple interactions and everyday conversations between Holly and Cliff, and presents a very human portrayal of a flawed, dysfunctional, yet somehow loving relationship over time. Unfortunately, as the story strays into symbolism and spectacle, it also wanders farther away from believable actions and emotions.
Bed runs at the Atwater Village Theatre through March 13th with performances on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, as well as Sunday afternoons. General admission tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.