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A CurtainUp Review
By Les Gutman
bedbound, a furious two-hander written and directed by Enda Walsh, arrives in New York in the "much-anticipated" category, having won an award at the Edinburgh Fringe and garnered a pack of positive reviews for its production at London's Royal Court. It's an unpleasant play by design, telling the story of a monstrous man (Brían O'Byrne), driven well beyond reason by ambition, and his polio-stricken daughter (Jenna Lamia). We discover them in a filthy bedroom (rendered as a nightmare of a used furniture store by Klara Zieglerova) where she is stuck, and he is trying to decelerate sufficiently to fall asleep. The daughter uncorks a raging rant from her father, one we get the impression she's heard many times before: she adds the voices of the characters who are the subject of her father's harangue.
The father (not much of one) seems to have been mesmerized at a young age by a singular purpose. Having begun working in a lowly position in a furniture store, he is compelled to rise to the top -- to become a success in the furniture business. Ordinarily, that might be a worthy undertaking, but this man is driven to use whatever means it takes to achieve his aim. It takes him down a savage path in which he murders not only competitors (in a most heinous fashion) but even his trusted assistant and perhaps even his wife. His rampage conjures up a collision between Willy Loman and Macbeth, in a display of "vaulting ambition, which o'er-leaps itself and falls on the other".
When the fathers story ebbs, the daughter's flows. Having contracted polio in a freak accident, she was left in her bed with nothing but her mother and the literature they shared to comfort her. For his part, the father (whose only aim in having a child was to create an heir to the business he was building) set about building increasingly constricting partition walls in the bedroom, brought on by an amalgam of guilt, shame and anger. The breaking down of those walls is Walsh's central symbolic, indeed metaphoric, theme.
Much of bedbound is told in monologues, his like a series of volcanic eruptions, hers less violent but no less manic. Walsh's densely packed words keep both actors exceptionally busy, and Mr. O'Byrne is also called upon to exercise his emotions with extreme, and brutal, physicality. When it gets even more interesting is when the characters actually engage, and it is this that will drive the play to its almost bizarrely soft and poignant conclusion.
That Walsh's dialogue is masterful cannot be gainsaid; and it's equally clear that the hyperbolic performances reach virtuoso levels. But it's in the blending of the two that Walsh's effort ultimately seems somewhat self-defeating. At roughly seventy exhausting minutes, bedbound is difficult to sustain. The frenetic performance, especially Mr. O'Byrne's, is so overwhelming, we lose words to spectacle. Walsh, the director, surprisingly lets the show become a masturbatory exercise for the actors, occluding the equally forceful profusion of words that Walsh, the playwright, has provided.
One can only marvel at the display Mr. O'Byrne (best known to New York audiences for his part in Martin McDonough's Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West) offers, but it is the less taxing rendering of Ms. Lamia's daughter that strikes the deeper nerve.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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