By Patrick Hurley
The journey of a relationship is told in a beautifully simplistic way in Sheila Callaghan’s new play Bed, presented by Echo Theater Company and playing now at the Atwater Village Theatre.
Taking place over the span of nine years, the relationship of Holly (Kate Chadwick) and Cliff (TW Leshner) is told entirely from their bed. The relationship starts in bed, as some tend to do, with a night of passion, and slowly through a series of episodic vignettes, a more complex, emotionally volatile story emerges. The complexities of falling in love, and having to learn to navigate the world as a couple is highlighted by the dynamics of these two characters. Where Holly is a neurotic, passionate artist type, Cliff is level headed and calm. This causes the two to constantly be searching for a middle ground, which causes the volatility, which causes wonderful drama, the subject is perfect fodder for the theater. The tension and the stakes are caused through the need these two diametrically opposed people have to be consumed by the other, because they fell in love. Throw in some infidelity, a brother in-law named JC (Johnathan McClain), and the drama is even more heightened. There is also a question of gender roles at play.
Holly is a semi-successful musician and her need for independence as well as her inability to stay faithful places her in a much more traditionally male archetype. What Ms. Callaghan has done is flipped the tropes of male and female and she never directly addresses gender. This makes Holly a boldly feminist character, one who refuses to submit to the overtly feminine roles that she could have easily been written into. The sex scenes are also used as a means of empowerment for her. She is the focus and we are seeing this relationship much more through her eyes than Cliff’s. Cliff, however is not a docile, nor a weak character. He is a counter to her high strung neurosis. She is blunt and sometimes almost cold to him, and he is forever looking at her with love, and this makes us feel slightly more empathetic toward him than her.
Sheila Callaghan has written a wonderfully funny, and sometimes painfully honest examination of love. The idea of having a relationship told from the bed could seem gimmicky or even obligatory, but the bed becomes something more, it’s used in such a way that it becomes a means of escape, a place where the past is stored, a place where physical items and characters manifest themselves in strange hyper-theatrical ways. The idea that a relationship could be tracked from a bed is brilliantly realized in this production by a weighty script and the nimble direction of Jennifer Chambers, who knows how to keep the show feeling alive. There is not a stagnant moment. And though this play is highly episodic, moving through time, there are no blackouts, no changes are made that the audience doesn’t see. The actors change clothes on stage and scenes blend into each other. This keeps the flow and the momentum going. There is always forward motion to this play, where so much of the action takes place in a bed, and that is because of a truly gifted director.
It is also due to a clever scenic designer, Se Oh, who creates a magical bed whose tricks are never revealed, but always intriguing.
All three actors are exceptional. But this is really Kate Chadwick’s show. She has created a beautifully nuanced, and utterly human character. She gives Holly an indomitable spirit, a passionate and frenzied urgency to everything she does. Her Holly is a firecracker of a woman, and you simply can’t take your eyes off of her.
This is a wonderful production. Filled with honest insights about the nature of love, and painful truths about the nature of humanity. And at under 90 minutes, it goes by like a dream. A dream you’re not quite ready to wake up from, and one that will certainly stay with you long after you have.
Echo Theater Company Presents
By Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Jennifer Chambers.
Feb 6-March 13
Sun 4PM & 7PM
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039