Mrs Darling's Bed 'n' Board
nytheatre.com review by Kiran Rikhye
August 22, 2006
Mrs. Darling's Bed 'n' Board, by the British company Skint Productions, weaves a story of complex relationships between multi-faceted characters. But in its muddle of mind games, back story, and secrets, it is easy to lose sight of the heart of the play. Often, the play feels like it is strung together out of a series of catharses, with each moment, each exchange, and each monologue being treated with equal importance. The play doesn't build slowly, but hits you steadily for its full two hours and twenty minutes, and there is never any calm before the storm. The end result here, unfortunately, was that I was never entirely sure what the storm was all about.
The play takes place in London during the Second World War, when the timid and earnest young Private Levi Shirley (played by Kenny de Marco) arrives at Mrs. Darling's boarding house traumatized by war and recovering from a wounded leg. Mrs. Darling (Wendy Lawrence-James) a nosy, flamboyantly charming middle-aged woman, also houses a man named Mr. Wilfred (Pierce Starre), a self-professed "flaming queer," with whom she seems to have a strange and intimate history. Mrs. Darling and Wilfred argue over whether the handsome newcomer is straight or queer, and they plot a kind of Dangerous Liaisons-esque set of sexual manipulations and mindgames to play with the earnest and inexperienced Private Shirley, though the exact details of their cat and mouse game never seemed entirely clear to me.
The relationships that writer/director Karlton Parris has established are rich and complicated, but they are obscured by a few too many soul-bearing monologues and by the fact that at least one person cries in nearly ever scene. At a certain point, I was so overwhelmed by this indiscriminate emotional onslaught that I stopped caring about the characters.
The writing is at times subtle and nuanced, but is generally undermined by the direction, which seems determined to wring gut-wrenching intensity of even the most affectingly understated scenes. When Private Shirley first meets Wilfred, the two men have barely introduced themselves before they are moving in for a series of near-kisses and manhandling each other. I am sure this is intended to heighten the sense of tension and desire between them, but it seems too intense too soon, particularly given Private Shirley's previously reticent and repressed behavior. Parris ought to have more faith that his text can speak for itself, without the "help" of shouting and groping. (As a side note: the show makes daring use of frequent full-frontal male nudity. This bold choice gives the production an unusual edge; nonetheless, those who are uncomfortable with stage nudity should be forewarned.)
In spite of some impressive and intense performances, I left Mrs. Darling's Bed 'n' Board wishing the show's creators had let me appreciate its complex relationships instead of clouding their work with unnecessary secrets, screaming, and tears.