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A CurtainUp Review
By Deborah Blumenthal
I had been expecting another high-octane, everyone-crowded-around-the-table-yelling dysfunctional family play as those offshoots of August: Osage County seem to be popping up everywhere. What I got instead was a play packed to the seams with crude, to-the-point humor and an ironic nonchalance about just about anything and anything depraved: drugs, teens getting pregnant and running away from home, a family snorting coke like it's no big deal.
When Carol , a lawyer, wife, and mother of a fifteen-year-old prep school student, with college loans still to pay off, no life insurance, and a husband in academia who makes twelve thousand dollars a year falls unexpectedly and fatally ill, she must find a way to be sure that her family will be financially secure after her death. She asks her husband Michael and her best friend Katy to get married so that they can jointly provide for Teddy, and they oblige. Bonding over sexual fantasy that quickly blooms into love, Michael's idea for a lucrative family business takes a page (maybe a little too directly) from Weeds. Cleanly directed by May Adrales (who stepped up to the plate playing the role of Katy at the performance I saw), The Bereaved succeeds most noticeably in its grasp of the awkward brand of humor. Actors, director and playwright get the audience to laugh heartily at things that really shouldn't be funny, yet they are, if only for the rules of schadenfreude.
The Bereaved does often ring with an absurdity that promotes a rather unbalanced sense of humor. It's not quite a mockery of the characters, but often sets them up for jokes a bit too obviously. It's reigned in by the director's injection of an overall disparate feeling. The sense of distance she has created between the characters, the places and the events does highlight, if not overtly, the lack of emotional connectivity between these people. And perhaps that's the problem. Though the play is undeniably laugh-out-loud funny with a lot of weight in its topics, there's not much in the way of substance. What we get instead of much feeling is a domino effect presentation of one calamity after another that eventually approaches absurdity that is no longer enjoyable but merely ridiculous.
Though I was still laughing by the time The Bereaved immoderately pushed the fine line of having taken funny too far, my interest was lost. There's much to be said for a finessed sense of humor, which Bradshaw clearly has, but his play lacks balance: I wanted to feel more than I did for a young boy losing his mother. The moment was wrenching, but the laughter still lingering throughout the house from the previous scene overshadowed it.
Overall, though, snappy dialogue and all around solid performances make most of the hour and ten minutes fly by. However, it's a play that presents something of a catch-22, as it is enjoyable largely because it is so funny, and more seriousness would hinder the laughter. It's hard to tell whether Bradshaw was aiming for overpowering laughs or a balance of humor as well as the other more realistically appropriate emotions. It's too bad it couldn't be toned down some, and given a little more authenticity, which brings me back to those Oreos. If you set out to make something look real, you'd better check that the cookies actually come from the store advertised on the bag you're unpacking.