nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 3, 2009
The Bereaved, Thomas Bradshaw's new play, is—I think—about narcissism. The characters in this play never quite get over themselves long enough to focus on the real needs and wants of anyone else: even when he's visiting his dying mother in the hospital, 15-year-old Teddy can't stop playing his video game; and even when she's dying, control freak Carol can't stop ordering her family members and best friend to accede to her every whim.
Bradshaw fills the play with people who are driven by their basest instincts and find ways to satisfy them, come hell or high water. Carol's husband Michael is a cocaine addict and something of a sex fiend. Her best pal Katy has racist rape fantasies. Teddy's girlfriend Melissa is also a coke addict, and wildly promiscuous to boot. Teddy's libido is so out of control that he masturbates during classes at school (leading to a pair of soiled underpants that is the first inciting incident in the raucous, surreal plot). The only character in The Bereaved who seems to be in command of his id is Jamal, who is Melissa's drug dealer.
The first part of the play introduces us to most of these people, and then (in a plot turn that has been disclosed in the press release and elsewhere) Carol has a heart attack and eventually dies. What happens after that includes a host of hot-button stuff: an unwanted pregnancy, the threat of foreclosure, vending drugs to schoolchildren, racial profiling, and cops shooting someone armed only with a toy gun.
The question is, what is all this outrageousness in service of? As in most of his previous works, Bradshaw parades taboo after taboo in The Bereaved; but if you saw Purity (in which two affluent men rape a 9-year-old girl) or Cleansed (in which a skinhead bangs a mixed-race girl in a school toilet) then nothing here can possibly jolt you. I suppose The Bereaved is meant to satirize something Bradshaw's seeing in the zeitgeist, but he's played this hand before, and so, for me at least, the thing lacks teeth and claws. Bradshaw and his producer Chad Beckim podcasted about the play on nytheatrecast (here); they talked about the play's "hyper-realist" style, how it packs gut-punch after gut-punch as it zips through its scary-zany plot. All true enough; but I kept having to ask myself what this mirror is intended to reflect.
Partial Comfort Productions (of which Beckim is co-artistic director with Molly Pearson) has done a loving job bringing the play to the stage, with first-class production values and a splendid cast (Andrew Garman as Michael, McKenna Kerrigan as Carol, Vincent Madero as Teddy, KK Moggie as Katy, Brian D. Coats as Jamal, and Jenny Seastone Stern as Melissa; Coats is particularly terrific here). Director May Adrales keeps things fast and furious, if not as in-your-face as I have seen other Bradshaw works performed (the nudity, of which we are warned pre-show in the lobby, is real but utterly modest, for example).
Bradshaw is a playwright of remarkable talent. He taps into a level of (in)human egoism that few of his contemporaries ever try to explore. And he writes great dialogue and scenes: funny, raw stuff that gets at least part of the audience howling, and�when he lets his characters breathe and feel, which happens only seldom�genuinely affecting moments as well. With The Bereaved he has created, yet again, a play that stays in the memory, whether you want it to or not.